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Flames hope Stempniak's return provides spark

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Having dropped three straight games and coming away from a four-game road trip with just two of a possible eight points, the Calgary Flames are searching for a spark at Scotiabank Saddledome.

They might have found one in Lee Stempniak.

Stempniak, who has missed Calgary's past seven games with a broken foot, is good to go when the Flames host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

"It's just hard to see the team lose," said Stempniak, who has four goals and nine points in 10 games. "I don't know if I would've made a difference at all, but it's just not being a part of it. You work so hard to be able to play the games. Anytime you're not playing it's tough, especially when you're not winning.

"Hopefully we can turn that around tonight."

Coach Bob Hartley will pair Stempniak with rookies Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi in the hope the veteran can kick-start the kids, who both went pointless on Calgary's latest road trip.

"He understands the game and he understands what those two youngsters go through," Hartley said. "I'm always trying to give Sven and [Monahan] a veteran presence around them. I'm just trying to put a little experience and at the same time, whether it's Jiri [Hudler], whether it's [Stempniak], there's lot of skill on that line."

Baertschi, twice a healthy scratch in the Flames' past three games, is excited to welcome Stempniak back to his line.

"I always have a lot of fun playing with him," he said. "It's been a few games now where I played with him, before he got hurt. Me and Monny aren't that experienced, so having him, it helps you. It gives you confidence. He's a huge help. I'm pretty sure we're going to be able to create some good offense."

Hartley isn't just looking to the 30-year-old to boost Calgary's youngsters. He needs Stempniak to help his struggling power play.

With the Flames on an 0-for-30 slump with the man-advantage in their past nine games, Hartley hopes Stempniak's return can help fill the net with the man-advantage too.

"This guy has real quick hands and can find those rebounds," Hartley said. "Is he the solution? It's a unit of five. I never point the finger at one player. We do it as a team. We do good as a team. We do bad as a team.

"But obviously there's no denying Stempy is going to help our power play."

Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock starts in place of Antti Niemi against Calgary in the hopes he can lead San Jose to its first win in November.

Stalock has made just two appearances. He won his only start, making 38 saves in the Sharks' 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 27. More recently, the 26-year-old was flawless in relief of Niemi on Nov. 7, making 21 saves in 32 minutes of action against the Vancouver Canucks.

"Alex is going to get a chance to play," coach Todd McLellan said. "We're excited about that. His last start was a very good one for us, and he came on in relief against Vancouver and played well. He deserves the chance and I'm sure he'll be a difference."

The decision to start Stalock has everything to do with trying to put an end to the Sharks' winless streak.

"Every decision we make is based on the fact that we haven't won in five games," McLellan said. "We're trying to win the game and trying to put things together."

Stalock, who has a 1.31 goals-against average and .967 save percentage in his two appearances, is ready to help his club any way he can.

"Every night you have to be ready, whether you're getting the start or you go on in some point in the game," he said. "I've played recently, but I'm doing 60 minutes tonight and it's a good team so I've got to be prepared."

Here are the expected lines for San Jose and Calgary:


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Tommy Wingels

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tyler Kennedy

Matthew Nieto - Joe Pavelski - Martin Havlat

James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown

Dan Boyle - Brad Stuart

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Jason Demers - Scott Hannan

Alex Stalock

Antti Niemi

Scratched: Matt Irwin, John McCarthy

Injured: Brent Burns (head), Raffi Torres (knee), Adam Burish (back)


TJ Galiardi - Matt Stajan - David Jones

Mike Cammalleri - Mikael Backlund - Jiri Hudler

Sven Baertschi - Sean Monahan - Lee Stempniak

Lance Bouma - Joe Colborne - Brian McGrattan

TJ Brodie - Chris Butler

Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman

Derek Smith - Ladislav Smid

Reto Berra

Karri Ramo

Scratched: Tim Jackman, Max Reinhart, Shane O'Brien

Injured: Mark Giordano (lower body), Christopher Breen (upper body), Curtis Glencross (MCL sprain)

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