Tonight, the World Series begins in Kansas City. That town’s team, the Royals, was cannon-fodder in the American League until this year, when they emerged as a scrappy, underdog club that basically willed themselves into the playoffs with an excellent last stretch that catapulted them from the proverbial outhouse to the penthouse, to to speak.
The last time the Calgary Flames resembled such a club was a decade ago, when their championship quest was snuffed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who visit the Scotiabank Saddledome tonight. The Lightning have been excellent since last season, but somehow – somehow – dropped a 3-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers. Chock it up to a strong effort from the boys up north – or a team potentially looking past a stretch of games against a few of the league’s weak sisters.
Either way, expect the Saddledome to be more full of emotion than it usually is against the old Southeast Division. There’s something about yanking away a Stanley Cup like Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown that causes grudges to form. The puck drops at 7pm MT and the game airs on Sportsnet Flames (TV) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (radio).
The Flames are, shockingly, north of .500 after a lengthy road trip. The secret? Amazing goaltending. Both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo played three times on the trip and played absolutely out of their minds. Hiller (2-2-0, 2.22 GAA, .942 SV%, .961 ES-SV%) is off tonight after a great effort against Winnipeg, particularly in the first. Ramo (2-1-0, 2.30 GAA, .920 SV%, .940 ES-SV%) gets the start to even them out at four appearances apiece. By sheer coincidence, the start is against his former team (and the one that originally brought him into the NHL).
And yes, both of their save percentages seem scary-high and are due for a massive – MASSIVE – correction over the course of an 82-game season. We’ll see if the team can play a good enough game to not let that hinder them too much when it inevitably happens.
Lines for tonight via Daily Faceoff:
Hudler – Backlund – Byron
Gaudreau – Monahan – Raymond
Glencross – Colborne – Jooris
Bollig – Stajan – Bouma
Giordano – Brodie
Russell – Engelland
Smid – Wideman
Both Josh Jooris and Deryk Engelland return for the Flames, displacing Raphael Diaz and Devin Setoguchi, neither of whom were good against Winnipeg. Jooris was roomies with Corban Knight and Ben Hanowski in the minors, and now all three of them have played for the Flames AND scored goals (though Knight took awhile to get a goal, while Jooris and Hanowski scored in their debuts). With Engelland’s return, the defense shuffles a bit but is a bit more balanced in terms of skill and size than it was with Smid and Diaz as the bottom pair.
The Flames have never out-chanced a team this season. Granted, six of their seven games so far have been on the road, but that’ll have to change for them to have any success. Their power-play in particular needs to generate more – both in terms of chances, shots and goals. The team spends way too much time setting it up and not nearly enough time generating stuff. They were better against Winnipeg, and hopefully that continues. For their part, power-play work has been a staple of recent practices.
Tampa Bay played last night and didn’t skate at the ‘Dome this morning, plus they have some injuries that are up in the air. In short, we have very little idea what’s happening with them.
Via Daily Faceoff, here’s UPDATED lines!
Drouin – Stamkos – Palat
Connolly – Filppula – Johnson
Kucherov – Namestnikov – Brown
Morrow – Boyle – Blunden
Stralman – Carle
Garrison – Sustr
Brewer – Barbeiro
Bishop played and lost last night, so we’re guessing that Nabokov plays. Ryan Callahan left last night and Killorn was in, then out, then in, then out (and didn’t play). Mike Blunden has been recalled, so presumably both Killorn and Callahan don’t play. Radko Gudas and Victor Hedman are injured, which leaves a huge void on their back-end. I like Carle and Stralman, but they aren’t a top pairing in the NHL.
Tampa boasts a 3-2-1 record, and besides the Oilers loss they dropped a game at home against New Jersey in the back end of a back-to-back. It’s one game, so it’s hardly a trend, but the Lightning are an injured group who played and lost last night and are starting their back-up. This is the best potential time for the Flames to play this group.
SUM IT UP
The Flames are improbably above the .500 mark. Last season they managed to stay above .500 until game 5, so they’re ahead of last year in terms of losing and on-pair in terms of points. Given the low, low expectations for the group, there’s a lot of motivation in the room right now to stick around and prove people wrong.
That motivation probably cannot make up for a lack of skill over the course of an 82-game season, but a motivated Flames line-up looking for their first home win against a tired, banged-up Tampa Bay club that lost last night AND is starting their back-up may be enough to get two points.