SUN Hockey Pool

Flames expect tough game

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

No Roberto Luongo for the Calgary Flames to face?

No problemo.

Well, not quite.

That's a dangerous mind-set for the Flames to have heading into their important home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks, who will be without their all-world goalkeeper on a week-to-week basis.

Sure, the Flames won't be facing Luongo and his wonky groin when the teams meet tonight in Vancouver and Saturday in Calgary, but no way will the Canucks be a walkover with Curtis Sanford between the pipes.

"He's a good, honest goaltender, and is playing with a bit of confidence right now, and you know how big that is in this game. It's so much between the ears," said Flames forward Michael Cammalleri.

Sanford is something of an unknown entity to the Flames. He's only played five career games against Calgary. Cammalleri remembers him more from meeting in the AHL, while Sanford was with Worcester during his ascent to the St. Louis Blues.

Sanford, the unheralded, undrafted netminder who started his pro career with the now-defunct Missouri River Otters of the United Hockey League, has been thrust into the hockey spotlight.

He's fared quite well, thanks, having won all of the Canucks last three games, including a 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings Monday.

"We have to get on him right away, try and discourage him and make him know it's going to be a tough night with our top shooters throwing pucks on him," Cammalleri said.

That plan of attack doesn't so much have to do with Sanford, though.

It's what the Flames must do against a Vancouver team that's among the NHL's hottest this month and leading the Northwest Division with a 14-6-2 record. Thinking about a different goalie being in net isn't part of the equation.

"The mind-set against Roberto is the law of averages. You know he's going to make good saves, so if we can get 50 shots on goal, eventually some will go in," Cammalleri said.

"The mind-set against any other goalie is, if we can get 50 on him, maybe more will go in than if it was Roberto.

"I don't think we're going to try and change a lot. Obviously, you're taking one of the best players in the world out of a lineup, that's like playing the San jose Sharks without Joe Thornton, and there are other teams around the league who would be in the same position, but our game plan's not going to change.

"We're going to try and put a lot of pucks on the net and have success that way."

The Flames (12-9-1) have used that formula well to win three of their last four games.

They've been generating offensive chances with an improved forecheck, a relatively better commitment to defence and discipline.

Continuing that trend is of more concern than not facing Luongo.

"We'll start getting into trouble if we start thinking that way," said centre Matthew Lombardi. "They have a good team and a good system, really disciplined. We have to worry about our game, our system, and stick to it."

It may be late November, but this home-and-home series does add up to a key moment in the season. Vancouver has a five-point lead on the Flames in the division chase and took both halves of a season-opening set.

Dropping another couple of clashes to the Canucks would make it hard to reel them in by the end of the season.

"We owe it to ourselves to show up and have a better game," Lombardi said.


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