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Game 77: Flames At Avalanche, Preview And Open Thread

Flames again.  Phadouche will be back in The Can, up to his usual dirty tricks, but this time with an able-to-fight Lappy no doubt itching for a good scrap with him.  Lappy fought in the Edmonton game for the first time in weeks now that his lacerated finger has healed, and he definitely had a good showing.  Let's hope he wastes little time wrecking the Flame-Outs defenseman.

Now, lets talk about line combinations for the 150 millionth time, shall we?  I know everybody is just dying to talk about them some more, so I don't have a choice.

Dater (who I owe some serious royalty checks to lately), says tonight's lines (at least for half of the first period) will appear as such:


In his morning preview of tonight's game, Dater asked Coach Q about Wolski returning to the first line with Super Joe and Andrew Brunette.  Quenneville said:

Asked about his line-juggling for tonight and in general, Quenneville responded: "All the lines have played together at some point. (Wolski) has played the way we were hoping he'd play the last little while, and he earned an opportunity to be back with Joe and (Brunette)."

Okay, let's see.  First of all, saying "all the lines have played together at some point," doesn't say a lot, considering the vast multitude of combinations that have been employed this season.  Saying "all the lines have played together at some point" as evidence that there will be some kind of chemistry is beyond absurd.  Granted, the Sakic-Wolski-Brunette line has been reasonably successful (11 games, 7 goals, 13 assists), but it's not like they've played together for a while now, and I'm sure there's absolutely no pressure for Wolski's young shoulders to bear.  I'm sure he's gotten nothing but support from his coach.

As for the second half of Q's sentence, what the hell?  Wolski has "earned an opportunity to be back with Joe" and Brunette?  This bizarre merit system of "earning" spots on special lines with talented players is for the pee wees, not for professional players who have already established their specific techniques and playing styles.  You put guys on the same line who have complimentary temperaments and skill sets, not by who has the most gold stars for whatever arbitrary thing they did or didn't do a couple of games back.  This ridiculous system of punishment and reward has poisoned team chemistry all season, and now the players are even admitting it in interviews.  

Wolski should have "earned" the spot on a line with Sakic and Brunette because he's got excellent puck control and skates well, and because that line combo has been the second-most consistent for the team all season, with a points-per-game average of 1.82.  This is not rocket science.

Luckily, the most-consistent line combination, the illustrious RPM Line of Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk, is finally back together.  Sure, it took a while, but thanks to Wolski "earning" the chance to play with Sakic and Brunette, that gives room for Ryan Smyth to return to the only line he seems capable of scoring on.

Finally, Peter Forsberg is expected to return, and this time he'll be down on the third line with Tyler Arnason and David Jones.  Sure, there's no reason for Arnason to ever play a game that isn't against Edmonton, but I'm sure he'll be just fine next to Foppa.  Right.  And poor Jones probably isn't even sure what city he's in right now, let alone who his linemates are.  Conceivably, being on the third line will cut down on Forsberg's excessive ice time, but that's yet to be seen.  I think it's worth noting that Peter The Great's average ice time over the four games he's played this season (20:16) is greater than his averages over the previous five years.  In 2002-03, when he scored 106 points and won the Hart Trophy, he only averaged 19:20, including PP work.  Now he's older, more injury-prone, and rusty as hell.  What is the logic again in playing him so much?

Speaking of older and more injury-prone, Adam Foote and his 90 year-old hip will not play tonight.  Rest up, Footer.  Don't rush it---we've seen what kind of mistake that can be, just ask Son of Stastny.

Oh yeah, the Flames.  I guess this game is kind of important, but at this point I'm not even sure I want the Avalanche to make the playoffs.  I mean, I always want them to make the playoffs and win the Cup, but I fear a first-round sweep at the hands of the Red Wings and a new contract for Coach Q are burdens the team probably doesn't need to bear.

The game starts tonight at 7:30 PM Mountain time, 9:30 Eastern.  I'll be here with bells on, but no pants.  Never any pants.

ESPN preview.