SUN Hockey Pool

Flames subplots this week

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

The Calgary Flames keep winning games.

They keep losing players.

Go figure.

The Flames made a spirited push for an NHL playoff spot last winter but ultimately missed out on the spring party, thanks in part to a couple of costly injuries in the final weeks of the season.

Few NHL squads have had as many health issues so far this season, but the Flames just won’t fizzle. They managed to snag six of eight possible points last week, even with Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Lee Stempniak and Derek Smith already on injured reserve.

Blair Jones and Mikael Backlund are the latest casualties on this bad-luck bunch, leaving the Flames with an AHL Abbotsford Heat-inspired roster for the foreseeable future.

But as long as they can continue to hang tough in the Western Conference playoff race, the Flames could actually benefit from the return of some key cogs in March — and not the other way around.

1. Centre shortage

Forget helmets and shoulder pads, the Flames might want to dress their middle-men in bubble wrap.

With David Moss (foot) and Blair Jones (ankle) already out indefinitely, bad news turned worse when Mikael Backlund suffered an “upper-body injury” during a Saturday skirmish with Vancouver Canucks behemoth Andrew Alberts.

The Flames won’t update Backlund’s status until Monday, but the 22-year-old Swede was spotted in a sling after Saturday’s tilt, indicating it’s likely another long-term ouch.

All of a sudden, this team could really use Brendan Morrison, who was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks just over two weeks ago after sliding down the depth chart at centre.

The options are limited, but pint-sized Paul Byron instead of Ben Walter — the son of longtime NHLer Ryan Walter — hopped on a flight Sunday from Abbotsford with Backlund being out.

2. Dose of Dion

A familiar face will be looking to deliver a couple of bone-rattling hits in Tuesday’s clash, with Dion Phaneuf returning to his old haunts as captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s not his first skate at the Saddledome since the lopsided swap of 2010, but Phaneuf was selected to the NHL all-star team last month and will undoubtedly want to show the Flames faithful — who had a love-hate relationship with the brash blueliner when he was in Calgary — what they’re missing.

Despite what you might’ve heard from your buddies in the centre of the hockey universe, the Leafs are not the best team in the league this season. That being said, they’re better than they’ve been in recent years and are fighting for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, meaning they’ll be just as desperate as their hosts.

3. Seeing Stars (finally)

Hard to believe, but Thursday’s road tilt marks the first of four meetings this season with the squad from the Lone Star State.

The Dallas Stars are the only Western Conference opponent the Flames haven’t faced off against in the 2011-12 campaign, although the teams will certainly get re-acquainted with one another with four dates in less than six weeks.

If the Stars already seem like a familiar foe, it’s because the Flames have been talking about them as one of the squads they’re battling for playoff position for what seems like months already.

After the Stars lost 4-2 Sunday to the visiting Los Angeles Kings, the Dallas club was sitting a point back of the crew from Calgary in the standings, although the Stars boast more wins. At risk of overstating the obvious, these are crucial games for both squads.

4. Cooled-off Kings

Unless Darryl Sutter has really mellowed, it’s probably been a miserable time to be a member of the Kings.

Despite Sunday’s matinee victory over the Stars in Dallas, the Kings have dropped four of their past six games, scoring just 10 goals during that span.

The Kings, who host the Flames for Saturday’s affair in California, enjoyed quite a roll after Sutter was hired off the farm in Viking, Alta., and you can bet the ornery old cattle-rancher has served up an earful in recent days.

It wasn’t long ago the Kings seemed to be comfortably position in a playoff spot, but they’ve now dropped back toward the pack, and the Flames have a golden opportunity to gain more ground.

5. Fantastic Finns

Perhaps it’s time to place a call about Teemu Selanne?

Maybe tender a trade offer for Tuomu Ruutu?

The way things have been going lately, Flames GM Jay Feaster should think about stockpiling Finns.

There’s no doubt Olli Jokinen and Miikka Kiprusoff were the key cogs in a few victories last week.

Kiprusoff joined the NHL’s prestigious 300-win club in Wednesday’s 4-3 triumph over the San Jose Sharks, thanks in large part to a hat-trick and four-point outing from countryman Jokinen. The acrobatic netminder was at his very best in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks, and Jokinen scored a big goal in the shootout.

The Flames need both to keep rolling.

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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