Avs will be feisty foe for Flames

Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff makes a save during the team's game against the Nashville...

Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff makes a save during the team's game against the Nashville Predators on October 22, 2011. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)

Steve MacFarlane, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

CALGARY - Three games into their six-game homestand and the Calgary Flames find themselves in a spot not much better than they were when they arrived home following a disappointing road trip.

Only the Columbus Blue Jackets were separating the Flames from the bottom of the Western Conference standings when they woke up Sunday morning in a tie for 13th with the Phoenix Coyotes with just five points in their first seven games.

Here are some things to consider as they play a pair of home games this week:

AVALANCHE WARNING

Hands up, whoever thought the Colorado Avalanche had a shot at winning the Northwest Division this season?

Liars.

The Avs were pitiful last season, a half-dozen points ahead of the cellar-dwelling Edmonton Oilers and four behind the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Thatís all changed.

Itís early, but they appear capable of competing with anyone right now.

What might have been considered by some a gimme for the Flames is looking like a real challenge now.

BODY COUNT

The Flames scratched LW Niklas Hagman Saturday against the Nashville Predators in favour of getting rookie C Roman Horak into the lineup.

Defenceman Anton Babchuk has been sitting out as a healthy observer for the past three games.

Thatís almost $6 million on the bench as the Flames carry 23 healthy bodies. Something will have to give when C Mikael Backlund (finger) is ready to return a few weeks from now, but as things stand, head coach Brent Sutter has decisions to make every game.

With a struggling powerplay, itís possible Babchuk could get back in, but it might be tough for Hagman considering how well Horak played on the fourth line with wingers Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman. Hagmanís best hope is C Matt Stajan takes a turn on the sidelines and David Moss moves back to centre.

ROOKIE WONDER

The Avsí 18-year-old phenom wonít be the first to visit the Saddledome this season with the Flames already playing host to the Oilersí Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

But Gabriel Landeskog ó who was drafted second overall behind Nugent-Hopkins ó has been as big an impact player for the Avs as RNH has been for the Oilers.

If not better.

The Swede scored twice for the Avs in a 5-4 shootout victory over the Blackhawks in their last game, tying the game on a breakaway with less than two minutes to play.

Landeskog has four goals and five points in eight games so far.

OUT FOR REVENGE

The Blues pounded the Flames 5-2 in their first meeting this season in St. Louis.

How will the Flames fare this time?

Jaroslav Halak had to face just 17 shots from the Flames in the first meeting, but the Flames aimed 33 at Predators netminder Pekka Rinne during Saturdayís matinee.

On the Flames side, Henrik Karlsson made the start in St. Louis, and the way Brent Sutter is mixing things up in goal, thereís a slight chance Karlsson gets an opportunity to redeem himself Friday.

Brian Elliott made consecutive starts for the Blues as a reward for his early season play and thereís actually chatter he may steal the starting job from Halak thanks to a 34-save performance in Saturdayís 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

BLACK AND BLUES

Skill players are dropping like flies for the Blues.

David Backes took a heavy hit from Philadelphia Flyers brute Chris Pronger on Saturday and didnít return.

The Blues have declared it an upper-body injury after the big Flyers blueliner exploded into their centreman as he headed to the net, making shoulder-to-shoulder contact that immediately seemed to put Backes into a daze. Hopefully, itís not a concussion, because thatís a problem the team is already dealing with.

David Perron is with the team but is out indefinitely as he tries to get his strength and conditioning back on track after a long layoff with concussion issues.

Heís been out since last November.

Andy McDonald is also on the shelf with a possible head injury, which wouldnít bode well for the team. The crafty winger had more tests on the weekend and missed 24 games last season with a concussion, so theyíre playing it safe with him. If he does have another, it would be his second in 10 months.


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