Just 24 hours after kicking off the second half of the season with a big win over Colorado, the Calgary Flames (15-21-6) head back on the road to face the Phoenix Coyotes (20-12-9) in Glendale. The puck drops at 7pm MT on Sportsnet Flames, Sportsnet 960 Radio and all over the web.
The Coyotes sit in the final wild-card playoff spot in the West, just ahead of the Minnesota Wild due to the games-played tie-breaker. They’ve been sliding a bit in the past few weeks, having lost their first two contests of 2014 – and their last regulation win was back on December 12. They face a Flames club that has faced similar issues, both winning and closing games out.
This is Calgary’s third meeting of the season with Phoenix. So far, the home team has won each game (and scored four goals) – the Coyotes won 4-2 on October 22, the Flames won 4-1 on December 4 in Calgary’s last regulation win prior to last night.
THE ROAD WARRIORS
The Flames are coming off a gutsy 4-3 win in Denver last night, where the scoring flood-gates opened via goals from Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne, Jiri Hudler and Mike Cammalleri. Karri Ramo made 22 saves for the win. I don’t expect many, if any, line-up changes from last night.
Via DailyFaceoff, last night’s lines.
Cammalleri – Backlund – Hudler
Byron – Monahan – Stempniak
Bouma – Stajan – McGrattan
Galiardi – Colborne – Westgarth
Brodie – Giordano
Smid – Wideman
O’Brien Smith Ramo Berra
UPDATE: Patrick Steinberg indicates that Berra starts and Smith is in for Shane O’Brien.
I’m not entirely sold on the bottom six, as McGrattan and Westgarth on different lines seem a bit redundant. That said, the top six performed fairly well last night. Backlund’s been great lately, as has Paul Byron, and Hartley’s utilizing of them to spark other lines seems rather smart. The team also doesn’t have a lot of other options, as Derek Smith is their only 100% healthy extra body.
The Flames offense continues to be a bit scattershot, but largely driven by Jiri Hudler (and whatever line he’s on). Shockingly, Hudler has 14 more points than any other player on the team. In fact, he has more assists (23) than any other player has points. If that’s not a commentary on (a) how good Hudler’s been and (b) how not-good the rest of the team is, I’m not sure what is.
The Flames boast two Olympians – Ladislav Smid (Czech Republic) and Reto Berra (Switzerland).’
THE HOME SIDE
The Coyotes have lost back-to-back games, 5-3 to the Flyers and 2-0 to the Blue Jackets, to kick off 2014. They’ve dropped a lot of close games of late, including a stretch where they went to overtime in six straight – they won two of those six.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson won’t suit up for a second straight game, as he’s out with an upper-body injury. Via DailyFaceoff, the projected lines.
Korpikoski – Hanzal – Vrbata
Klinkhammer – Vermette – Boedker
Doan – Ribeiro – Moss
Chipchura – Halpern – Bissonnette
Yandle – Murphy
Morris – Schlemko
Stone – Klesla
Phoenix has a pretty balanced attack, especially compared to Calgary. Five Coyotes are within three points of each other for the team lead in scoring: Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Mikkel Boedker. Three others are just below this cluster. In short? You need to be strong defensively to beat the Coyotes; they don’t have any sure-fire scorers, but everyone contributes.
The Coyotes boast five Olympians: Mike Smith (Canada), Lauri Korpikoski (Finland), Zybnek Michalek and Martin Hanzal (Czech Republic), and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden). Michalek has been out since before Christmas with a lower-body issue. Despte getting good news today, Smith sits as Thomas Greiss – who was strong in relief against Edmonton in his last outing – gets the start.
SUM IT UP
Was last night a one-off? Did the Calgary Flames meet their January quota for solid hockey games? Or was last night a return to prior form for the team? Oddly, the Flames are 3-2-1 in the back-half of back-to-backs this season. Does that record drop back to .500, or can the Flames continue their strong play?
We’ll find out a lot about the Flames’ mental make-up tonight. Are they merely satisfied with one good effort and four goals, or do they expect more?