The Calgary Flames are in the midst of a six-game losing streak and are bracing themselves for three games in four nights – in three different cities – before being off for four days for Christmas.
The first test for them comes at home against the Dallas Stars.
The Flames (17-14-2) are in the midst of a six-game losing stretch – San Jose, Toronto, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Rangers – while the Stars (12-13-5) have won back to back games, most recently against the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, the Flames lost two of three to the Stars, including a pair of one-sided games (5-1 and 73). Even though the Stars haven’t been a house of fire this season, the Flames no doubt recall their games with Dallas from last year and hope to have a better showing against them in the Saddledome than they did last year.
And let’s be blunt here: the Flames do not want to be at .500 when Christmas comes around. A victory against Dallas guarantees a record in the black headed into the festive break. The puck drops at 7pm MT and the game can be seen on Sportsnet West and heard on Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Jonas Hiller gets the start. He’s 9-9-1 with a 2.42 goals against average and a .914 save percentage this year. Much like his colleague Karri Ramo, Hiller’s been hamstrung by Calgary’s luck. Neither guy has incredible numbers, but both are respectable. Hiller’s been victimized by being on the wrong side of games Calgary couldn’t score goals in so far, is all.
Ramo’s got an unspecified illness and was away from practice yesterday but expected back today. If he can’t go, expect a hasty call-up from Adirondack – particularly with three games in four nights. No other roster changes were expected based on yesterday’s practice, but you never know. Mikael Backlund is back skating, but remains sidelined long-term (as is Sam Bennett). At this point, maybe we’ll start taking wagers to see if Bennett’s at 100% before Backlund is.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Kari Lehtonen is expected to start tonight. He’s 12-7-5 on the year with a 2.97 goals against and a .907 save percentage. None of these sound world-beating, and considering he’s Dallas’ best goalie, you can imagine how the year’s gone for ’em. (The other goalies on the team have combined on zero wins and six losses.)
Beyond the usual suspects, the Stars are beginning to see the benefits of a few good drafts and smart development on the bottom end of their roster. A lot of these guys have been strong contributors for the AHL’s Texas Stars – who won the Calder Cup last season and utterly dominated the Abbotsford Heat every damn time they played them.
Between the kids and the addition of the big-name veterans over the summer, I think it’s safe to say that the Stars have underachieved. However, much like overachieving, that only lasts so long.
For the curious, Dallas’ even-strength Corsi is 49.7% overall (compared to Calgary’s 45.2%) and their Corsi Close is 50.3% (compared to Calgary’s 45.7%). It should be an interesting game.
SUM IT UP
There are no easy games in the NHL, but the Flames have three games rapid-fire (with travel) between now and Christmas. Of the three, this game is the most winnable – against a non-divisional opponent who’s really underachieved this season and is just now figuring things out.
Because after this, there’s a game in Vancouver against the Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada and the first meeting of the season with Darryl Sutter’s Los Angeles Kings. Both are road games against divisional opponents who will be emotionally engaged in the game.
No better time than the present to snap this losing string.