CALGARY – The Calgary Flames are getting thin up the middle at a time when their playoff prospects are perilous.
David Moss is out of the lineup indefinitely with what is believed to be an ankle injury suffered early in Monday’s practice.
The 29-year-old was promoted to centre the top line with wingers Alex Tonga and Jarome Iginla when Brendan Morrison injured his knee March 2. Morrison isn’t expected back for at last another two weeks.
So head coach Brent Sutter is again shuffling pieces on his chess board while the Flames try and hang onto a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“You have to be real careful with this because we’ve had good chemistry here,” Sutter said Tuesday. “We’ve got to be careful how we manage this.”
Sutter wasn’t showing his hand with any line combinations in Tuesday’s pre-game skate for the Phoenix Coyotes later Tuesday night. On the white board in the visitors’ dressing room, the Coyotes had Mikael Backlund pencilled in between Tanguay and Iginla.
“We’re going to have to try some different things,” Sutter said. “It changes some things as far as personnel in certain situations, but it doesn’t change how we have to play as a team.
“t doesn’t change what our goals are and what we want to get to.”
Sutter can shift Tanguay to centre, which is an unfamiliar position for him, and move Rene Bourque up on the wing. Increasing the ice time of centres Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan or Backlund are other options.
Backlund, a rookie, has toiled on Calgary’s fourth line but played his best game of the season in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Vancouver. The Swede scored a highlight-reel goal in the first period.
To get reinforcements up front, winger Ales Kotalik can be recalled from the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat once he clears re-entry waivers, although his US$3-million salary will then count against the cap. Kotalik, 32, has four goals and 15 assists in 18 games for the Heat. Trade-deadline acquisition Freddy Modin could also see more ice time.
Sutter threw cold water on the notion of calling up young players from Abbotsford.
“At this point in time, that’s not the answer,” he said.
Calgary is the NHL’s second-oldest team behind Detroit. The Flames had been relatively lucky regarding injuries with 288 man-games lost until Morrison went down.
It’s late in the season when wear and tear becomes more pronounced on teams, but forward Curtis Glencross said fatigue isn’t catching up with the players.
“Bad luck,” he said. “You look at Mosser yesterday, it’s a three-man weave going down the ice, he catches a rut and hurts his ankle. It’s freak. It shouldn’t happen. It’s the beginning of practice so there shouldn’t be big ruts out there, but somehow he found one.”
The Flames were clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot Tuesday. Only seven points separated fourth from 11th in the conference.
“Obviously with having two key guys out, it’s not the ideal situation for us, but on the other hand, there’s no time to feel sorry for anyone this week,” Jokinen said. “Other guys are going to need to step up.”