The Calgary Flames started the 2013-14 NHL season in the inauspicious position of being the consensus worst team in the league. At one point, in recent memory, the Flames were a perennial playoff contender, seemingly only a high-end centre away from being a truly elite team.
Slowly, however, the Flames transitioned into a sort of Maple Leafs west - the sort of team that pushes for the playoffs against all odds, only to discover that their misguided trade deadline pickup was insufficient to bridge the talent gap that left them out of the playoffs in the first place.
Last year, Jay Feaster seemed to realize that his strategy wasn't working, and began to sell off the team's more valuable assets in an attempt to rebuild the squad with a younger, more talented foundation.
Working toward this goal, Feaster sent Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh for picks and prospects, before shipping Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis for a similar return. Coupled with the offseason retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary lost three of their most expensive, recognizable, and skilled veterans in the span of a few months.
The Flames new leaf includes a number of talented young players that will take to the ice this evening. Sven Baertschi, long the jewel, is consistently seeing big league minutes after spending about half of last season in bigs. Joining Baertschi in leading the youth movement are players like Finnish forward Mikael Backlund, defender TJ Brodie, and this year's first round pick , Sean Monahan.
The Flames supplemented their young guns with former Bruin and Leaf Joe Colborne, cast off for a fourth round pick as a casualty of a tough salary cap situation in Toronto.
In addition to the posse of prospects, the Flames will also field some Canadien content. Former winger Michael Cammalleri is now the Flames best veteran forward, while former Habs property Karri Ramo is the back-up goaltender.
So, what does all of this add up to? The Flames were a below average possession team last year, and losing three of their best players likely won't help to improve that situation, at least in the short-term. While even passable NHL goaltending would be an improvement on the trainwreck that Kiprusoff produced last year, it still likely will not be enough to buoy Calgary to anything resembling competitiveness. Simply put, these are two points that Montreal should should be expected to earn.
The man charged with providing that goaltending is journeyman Joey MacDonald, a long-time member of the Detroit Red Wings system who has seen stints in Boston and Toronto as well. MacDonald has only one career start against the Habs, and he came up large to the tune of 41 saves while earning a victory. Overall, MacDonald is a serviceable veteran goalie who can be relied up to provide average to below-average play between the pipes.
Furthering Montreal's confidence will be a return to strength, as it appears they will avoid a few otherwise concerning situations. Brian Gionta did not travel on the team charter as he had family issues to address. It was initially unclear if Gionta would be travelling at all, though he has since joined the team. Joining the team as well is Max Pacioretty, who missed the Flyers game after leaving the Canadiens' opener against Toronto. In all likelihood, given Michel Therrien's stated preference to create consistent deployments wherever possible, this will allow the Habs to return to a top nine of:
Bourque - Plekanec - Gionta
Galchenyuk - Eller - Gallagher
Pacioretty - Desharnais - Briere
As always, our game thread will confirm the Habs' lines, and the identity of the Canadiens' scratch.
Carey Price will make his third start of the young season, meaning that we can likely expect Peter Budaj in Edmonton tomorrow night. Price has been strong in both of his starts so far, and will look to make the most of an opportunity to shore up his record against the squad from Southern Alberta. Price has earned only one win in four attempts so far, allowing thirteen goals in the process.
For news and notes from the Calgary side, check out Matchsticks and Gasoline.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- Avant match: Canadiens - Flames
- Tomas Hertl with the goal of the year (and other links)
- Max Pacioretty back in the lineup for Canadiens against Calgary Flames
- Hockey Canada officially unveils jerseys for Sochi
- Breaking down film - the Canadiens' power play and the argument for the 1-3-1