March 4, 2012
Five subplots for Flames fans this week
By Randy Sportak, QMI Agency
1. Hab-its look broken
Who would have guessed the Montreal Canadiens would have such a tumultuous season?
Sure, they would have been in tough to make the playoffs, but who saw this coming?
Coaches being fired. Replacements all but being forced to apologize for not speaking French. Players being traded. Everything that can go wrong has for the Canadiens.
Now, the bleu, blanc et rouge are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table and staring at a lottery pick, not the expectations of the 24-time Stanley Cup champions. And it could soon become uglier with a Western Canada road swing up next.
Amazingly, the Habs are not at the bottom in goals for or goals against, despite their situation, but with two wins in the last 10 games, it’s become ugly.
2. Old friends meet
As much as Tuesday’s clash with the Montreal Canadiens will be about the Flames’ need to earn two points and remain in the Western Conference playoff picture, it will also be a chance for Rene Bourque and Michael Cammalleri to face their former teams.
Cammalleri will have to once again answer all the questions regarding his comments about Montreal’s struggles just before the trade to the Flames, which created a somewhat ugly divorce.
For Bourque, who has four goals, six points and a minus-12 rating in 22 games for the Habs since the deal went down, it’s his first return to the Stampede City following a hasty departure — having been traded in the middle of a game he wasn’t playing in due to suspension.
It should make for some interesting storylines.
3. Jets flying again
The last time the Saddledome was graced with the presence of the Winnipeg Jets was March 31, 1996, when the Jets claimed a 4-1 victory thanks to a pair of goals by Dallas Drake and a 33-save performance from Nikolai Khabibulin. The Flames’ lone goal was scored by Theoren Fleury and Trevor Kidd was in net.
Well, the Jets are back — like the Flames, becoming the home for a failed team in Atlanta — and thriving.
Not only has the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg been a boon to Manitoba, but the former Atlanta Thrashers are definitely in the mix for a playoff spot. In fact, thanks to a stellar home record, they’re in the hunt for a Southeast Division title.
4. Who are these guys?
You’ll certainly need to grab a program when the Jets come to town, since we’re talking about a franchise that only comes to Calgary every second season — at least until the NHL realigns. But just because it’s easy to remember the Thrashers as being a dismal franchise, don’t for a second think the Jets will be forgettable, not with their young talent.
Third-year NHLer Evander Kane may have his share of off-ice goings-on in the Manitoba capital, but he is having a breakout season with the 30-goal plateau in reach. Moreover, former Boston Bruins young gun Blake Wheeler has been a hot-shot in the last couple of months.
There will be some familiar faces for Flames fans, especially in the likes of former Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Ladd and ex-’Hawk Dustin Byfuglien, and over the next few seasons, watch for the Jets to start winning with a wealth of young talent finding their way.
5. Not so Wild times
Remember when the Minnesota Wild were atop the NHL in mid-December? Those days sure seem like ancient history now.
Oh, the Wild essentially remain as much in the playoff mix as the Flames do right now, but it’s been a long fall down the ladder.
Things are looking more and more bleak these days, too, with captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder), LW/RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion), LW Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and G Niklas Backstrom (groin) all out of action.
The Flames have had their injury woes, but that’s four of the Wild’s best players.
Nobody in the Calgary dressing room will feel sorry for their Northwest Division rivals, but they should be ready to take advantage of the situation next Sunday.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak