The prognostications have been made, rosters have been set and the fantasy line-ups have been fretted over. Now, it’s time to play some darn hockey.
The 2014-15 National Hockey League season officially kicks off today, with four games, including the first of 82 regular season games for the Calgary Flames as they host the Vancouver Canucks in their home-opener.
You can catch the game at 8pm MT via radio on Sportsnet 960 The Fan and it’s a national telecast as the back-half of a doubleheader on Sportsnet West (and all regional Sportsnet channels) following the Toronto/Montreal game at 5pm MT.
The Flames are coming off a competitive camp and a winning pre-season record. Granted, the second thing doesn’t mean anything, but the first thing better mean that the players know there’s about a dozen players in Adirondack who feel like they should be in Calgary.
Sean Monahan was ill this morning and is a game-time decision. Lines, via the good people at Daily Faceoff, for if Monahan plays:
Glencross (A) – Monahan – Hudler
Bouma – Backlund – Raymond
Gaudreau – Colborne – Byron
Bollig – Stajan – McGrattan
Giordano (C) – Brodie
Russell (A) – Engelland
Smid – Wideman
Per the coaches: if Monahan can’t go, Colborne slides up and plays with Glencross and Hudler, Byron becomes a center and Jones slots in with him and Gaudreau.
Playing their first games with the Flames officially: Mason Raymond, Brandon Bollig, Deryk Engellend and goalie Jonas Hiller. Hiller gets the start tonight, Ramo starts in Edmonton and coach Bob Hartley doesn’t anticipate naming a #1 this year. He said the same thing last season, until the wheels fell off and they traded Reto Berra. Expect to see a good deal of Backlund’s line up against the Sedins.
Keep an eye on Calgary’s special teams. The power-play was not good in the pre-season, struggling to gain regular entry into the offensive zone and even to set-up effectively. They staffed that unit with NHL regulars, so that’s probably a topic of concern for the team. On the other hand, their penalty kill was pretty decent – and was staffed by a mix of rookies and regulars – so that may be what they rely upon. Or they could just not take too many penalties. That’s never a bad plan.
The Canucks were the anti-Flames last season: a talented team with high expectations that failed to meet them. They made a few changes in the off-season, including bringing in former University of Calgary Dinos head coach (and recent Calder Cup winner with the Texas Stars) Willie Desjardins as new head coach (replacing John Tortorella).
To be honest, I’m not sure what the expectations are in Van-Town this year. They do have a good team on-paper, and I think they’re filling out their bottom six more effectively than they have in the past. But it’s still a group that leans heavily on the Sedins for production.
Lines from Daily Faceoff!
D.Sedin (A) – H.Sedin (C) – Vrbata
Higgins – Bonino – Burrows
Richardson – Vey – Kassian
Dorsett – Matthias – Hansen
Edler – Tanev
Hamhuis – Sbisa
Weber – Stanton
Kevin Bieksa is said to be a game-time decision. I would presume Stanton drops out and everyone shuffles around if he goes, but that’s just me guessing.
SUM IT UP
The first game of the season begins a tough stretch for your local hockey heroes.
First it’s Vancouver, a team the Flames have struggled to beat. Next, we’re up the road to Edmonton tomorrow evening. After that, it’s onto planes, trains and automobiles for a five-game jaunt outside of Alberta with stops in St. Louis (Oct. 11), Nashville (Oct. 14), Chicago (Oct. 15), Columbus (Oct. 17) and Winnipeg (Oct. 19). There aren’t many easy outs here, and there’s a decent chance that unless the Flames are at the top of their games early, they could be deep in Connor McDavid territory by the end of October.
So tonight’s game is pretty important, because they’ll need to get what points they can, when they can, where they can.