FGD #34: Shooting Stars (7pm MT; SN West)

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.

THE FLAMES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

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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.

THE STARS

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

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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.

  • LibrarianMike

    I think it’s past time that Hartley ties Monahan and Gaudreau together for a full game.

    I’d also consider sitting Glencross for a game; the guy needs a fire lit under him. At the sme time, an injection of new energy is needed. Fill the aforementioned spot by giving Poirier a one game look at ‘The Show.’

    Maybe that seems extreme, but the team needs to snap this losing skid, better underlying numbers or not.

    • Burnward

      I agree. Veterans will always get the benefit of their years in the league, but Glencross hasn’t proven that he has the passion, speed or skill to keep up with this new group. He would be much better suited to the East where games are generally tighter and he can use his mucking skills and corner work to his advantage. Some coaches are all about the veterans (Boudreau) but I’m getting a sense that Hartley holds the vets accountable and if there’s any group with a mope on, it would be them. There seems to be a lack of fire in GlenX, Stajan and Raymond and it may be due to Hartley’s “no free passes” philosophy.

      • Burnward

        I don’t understand this.

        How is a lack of fire a result of the “no free passes” philosophy? If Hartley believes in always earned, never given, then any lack of fire in those vets earns them a seat in the press box.

        I think Glennie has looked slow this year and I don’t know why considering he was, once, one of the fastest if not the fastest Flames. He should be more than able to keep up with this group but he just isn’t. He now looks like he belongs on a third or fourth line.

        Stajan and Raymond are both recently back from injury and have both looked rusty to me. The team was winning when they went out of the line up but continued to lose when they came back even though the team’s corsi performance did not tail off when they re-entered the line up. I am not sure it can be said their re-appearance has held the team back.

        The fact is though, these guys aren’t going anywhere because of the cap floor unless the Flames keep a lot of salary or get somebody’s over paid bum in exchange even if Ferland and Poirier or is a better choice “right now”.

        • Derzie

          You and I are on the same page. My opinion is that unlike other coaches in the league, there are no “free passes” with Hartley even to veterans who may feel entitled. And that’s a good thing.

  • icedawg_42

    in all honesty I don’t agree that this is the most winnable of the 3 games. I don’t know, there’s something about Dallas that scares me. They’re a team I can see moving up the standings at a scary rate during the playoff push – but we’ll see. Vancouver is Vancouver – and maybe its just cause I hate them so much, but I actually see that as the most winnable game of the 3.

    • supra steve

      Vancouver last played on Wednesday, and will be well rested for Saturday. The Flames are playing their second game in as many nights on Saturday so the Flames go into Saturday’s game fatigued.

      Pike is correct, the game tonight is the most winnable game. Anything can happen, but I like the Flames odds tonight vs. Saturday.

  • TheCalgaryJames

    How weird is this…

    In the 8 games this season that the Flames have ‘out possessed’ the opposition in terms of Corsi 5v5 their record is 2-5-1 with an average CF% of 57.2%.

    Their PDO over those games is 97.15. This team for some reason can’t get the bounces when they start driving possession. You gotta think that’ll correct itself sooner rather than later if they continue playing like they have been over the last 2 weeks.

    Just as the torrid pace they were on couldn’t sustain them over 82 games neither can the losing streak. Might as well end it tonight and get on another winning streak.

    • Derzie

      A possession game is a slower game. The attack that speed provides erodes possession. The Flames are playing more traditional with the vets returning. And getting beat by teams with more skill.

      • TheCalgaryJames

        “A possession game is a slower game. The attack that speed provides erodes possession.”

        Chicago and TB are 1 & 2 in terms of CF% 5v5… do these teams seem slow to you? I think you’re way off with this statement.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Not sure how speed erodes possession. If you’re fast, get in behind the D (i.e. Paul Byron), get a scoring chance… improves Corsi.

        If you’re fast and can get back on D to break up a chance (ie. Brodie) … improves possession.

        If you’re fast and can get to the slot or front of the net, quicker than your opponent and get a scoring chance…. improves possession.

        What am I missing here?

        • beloch

          Some teams definitely play a more “high event” system than others, and they’re generally more fun to watch than teams who play a “low event” system. However, it’s execution that matters. Good teams can play either kind of system, and so can bad teams. The worst possible hockey to watch is two bad but “low event” teams trying to bore each other to death.

          Bad but “low event” was how the Flames played a few seasons ago. Currently, they play a “high event” system where the D are free to activate. This system makes good use of offensive D-men, but it gives up more rushes and some of those are against the Flames’ forwards. This is a smart system to use when your team doesn’t have a lot of developed, high-end scoring talent, but several good offensive D-men.

          This season, the Flames haven’t executed particularly well. Namely, they have a lot of rookies who, surprise surprise, make rookie mistakes. In the NHL, pretty much any mistake a team makes will be exploited. Once players like Granlund, Monahan, Gaudreau, Byron, etc. have a few seasons of NHL experience they’ll make a lot fewer mistakes. It’s been great to see the kids rewarded so richly early this season, but this season is still very much a “learning” season.

      • redricardo

        From a statistical standpoint, there are many ways to drive possession. Maybe you’re more skilled, faster, smarter, bigger, or any combination thereof.

        There’s no particular style, it’s what works good for you. LA won with a big team, so now everyone wants to get big. But they ignore that the key isn’t that LA was big… It’s that they drove possession and routinely outshot the opposition. “Big” by itself doesn’t make you good at hockey, and trying to pigeon hole styles doesn’t work. Same with speed, or anything else.

        This is why the WOWY chart is so useful. On teams that are “good” and “competitive” you can see how different players and styles mesh with other players. On Calgary it’s much easier: If your name is BroDano, you make your teammates better.

  • redricardo

    I don’t agree with scratching Stajan for this game. Once you get past line 1, Dallas is shallow. There’s a chance to use a guy like Stajan to exploit a mismatch or two.

    Scratching him for Bollig? Hartley has some weird scratches sometimes.

  • beloch

    I’m looking forward to seeing Bennett get his cup of coffee. Everything I’ve seen says he was more NHL ready at the start of this season than Monahan was last year. Consider the sounds we’d hear from the North if Bennett overtook Drasaitl in scoring before being sent down!

    • Byron Bader

      I don’t mind the hattie or even a 3-pointer.
      He is easily the most consistent player in the last 10 games. Hudler a close 2nd.

      Raymond gets a bit of a pass for it being a shoulder injury. Kind of hard to get your shooting back to 100% after that kind of injury.
      As well, he would think about it going into the corner, so still be a bit shy.

      GlenX needs to get his SH% up. He is typically closer to 20% than 10%. Strange but he has 21 points in 33 games, so he is not far off his usual pace for points. He is making dumb plays on the ice though, and they look like lazy plays.
      Even his penalties are weak ones instead of the nasty cross-check or hack to the hands type.

      Come on GlenX, get it together. Get Scoreface going.

  • Byron Bader

    Dallas can opened the Flames 2 or 3 times last year. Like 6-1 both games I remember. Seguin and Benn ruined us on every shift. Looking at the roster … that line is going to be deadly again. But the Flames can hopefully capitalize when the other three lines on are on the ice. All three look pretty mediocre.

  • First Name Unidentified

    glenny is a trade bait. So are Russell, Wideman, Stajan and Jones. Glencross is awful past few games and Stajan just can’t skate with the boys anymore. Whatever we get, package those names out and let the kids take up spots on the regular roster.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      You are wrong about Russell. He is a young highly skilled defensemen and leader that you have underestimated his value to the Flames!

      The others you mention I could agree with but the timing of off-loading those vets is critical or you will end up with the Oiler model of rebuild!

  • RKD

    Bollig sucks, his contributions to this team are non-existent. At least Stajan can win face-offs, kill penalties, be a checker and has been known to make an assist here or there on goals. Hope the skid ends tonight, last time Seguin and Benn stole the show and totally dominated. We need to limit their time and space. What a bust Hemsky has been for the Stars. Ales and Spezza seemed to have some good chemistry in Ottawa but that’s all seemed to have disappeared. Those Dallas d-pairings are frightening (in a bad way of course).

  • Burnward

    Check out puckdaddy for the latest missive from Lambert. My neck is sore from shaking my head at his logic or lack of same! This time he feels Oilers have turned the corner; this prior to Eakin firing. Flames of course take a beating from our fav blogger!

    edit

    • beloch

      The Oilers will have turned one corner when they acquire a competent starting goalie. They need to do a complete 180 though, so it’ll take another corner (a NHL ready centremen) to get them going in the right direction. Firing MacT and the entire scouting staff would allow them to trade in their rusted-out lada too.

  • cgyokgn

    Let’s hope that the Flames find their scoring touch again. The Stars basically won vs the Nucks with one goal (and an EN goal). If they get one goal, Lehtonen is quite capable of locking it down. And again we give up the first goal.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    No expert, but it seems need to get off boards quicker/better. Stars also very disciplined in collapsing in front of their net.

    CGY was showing flashes using middle of the ice.

    Once they get one … more will come.

  • Burnward

    For the love of Pete, why is Glencross on the ice with the goalie pulled? And if he is, he should be stapled to the front of the net and not allowed to touch the puck. Having said that, i love how Hartley doesn’t stick with the ritual of one minute plus/minus 10 seconds that every coach adheres to. 1:45 or more and the Flames have the extra man out. Like it.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Pathetic. What a bunch of stumble bums.
    Don’t worry boys you can drink on the flight to Van and youll be there in time to hit the town still tonight. Don’t bother sobering up now..

    Jesus. I guess they out shit them and probably won some fancy stats super mario coins again so there’s always that

    ****!