FGD #44: Showdown at the Shark Tank (8pm MT, CBC)

Tonight! Live from the HP Pavilion in downtown San Jose, California! It’s the 45th game of the 2014-15 Calgary Flames season, as they take on divisional rival (and my cousin’s favourite team), the San Jose Sharks!

The Flames (23-18-3) enter the evening in a place that even the most optimistic person wouldn’t have projected they’d be in mid-January: a single point outside of a playoff spot. But between some hot streaks and never really getting blown out of any games they lost, the Flames are a confident bunch that honestly believes that they can win any game they’re in. And as we delve deeper into the schedule and the Flames attempt to actually make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, having that kind of confidence could mean the difference between winning and not.

The Sharks (24-16-5) may be the NHL franchise that most exemplifies missed opportunities. The Sharks have been a damn good hockey club since, well, a decade, but every single season they make the playoffs and something gets in their way. Last season? It was blowing a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. They seem well-positioned to once again make a run at the playoffs, but this remains a mentally fragile group until they finally prove to themselves – and the entire hockey world – that they can finish the job.

It’s the third of five meetings between these two teams. Each side has won a game so far. After tonight, each team gets a home date with the other side.

The puck drops tonight at 8pm MT. The game is on CBC (with Dave Randorf and Garry Galley) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias).

THE FLAMES

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 1.41.02 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.27.44 PM

Joni Ortio gets his third straight start in net after winning his first two games and giving up just a single goal in the process. He’s 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals against average and .984 save percentage. None of those will last, but Bob Hartley likes to ride the hot hand. The other roster news is that Curtis Glencross (lower body) is out for tonight and Mason Raymond returns after being a healthy scratch. Line rushes at practice today seemed to indicate that Ladislav Smid may return tonight in place of Diaz, so take that for what you will. Glencross, Karri Ramo (upper), Josh Jooris (various) and Sam Bennett (upper) are sidelined.

The big question is this: how will the absence of tough minutes-eater Glencross impact things for the Flames? Right now it seems that Jones/Bouma/Monahan will eat the tough assignments as much as possible, opening up time and space for Hudler/Gaudreau/Backlund. But how much will the Sharks be able to isolate that skill line? Can Bouma adequately step in for Glencross in that role? And after being thoroughly mediocre since returning from his injury (and getting scratched), how will Mason Raymond respond?

As detailed below: tonight’s games have big big playoff implications for Calgary.

THE SHARKS

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.39.13 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.39.40 PM

Antti Niemi starts. He’s 18-11-4 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Alex Stalock is his back-up. Niemi is quite good.

There’s a lot to like about the Sharks. They have a good mix of experience and youth, and their third line is strong. They can roll four lines and really match up well against most teams. Special teams is their bread and butter, being one of the top power-play teams in the league and being in the top half of penalty killing squads. Long story short: if you want to beat San Jose, keep the game at even-strength.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

The Flames got zero help last night from anybody else.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 1.37.52 AM

  • Colorado @ Tampa Bay (5pm MT): Colorado’s two points back of Calgary. Tampa should win this.
  • Washington @ Dallas (6pm MT): Dallas is four back of Calgary. Washington has significantly more points than them.
  • Arizona @ Minnesota (7pm MT): Minnesota’s six back of Calgary and seven ahead of Arizona.
  • Anaheim @ Los Angeles (8pm MT): Anaheim is well ahead of everyone in the West right now. Los Angeles will be in tough tonight.

If Anaheim beats Los Angeles (in regulation) and Calgary beats San Jose (in regulation) tonight, the Flames could be a point up on Los Angeles heading into their game on Monday night…with a game in hand. Two wins here for the Flames could completely change the complexion of the season.

ELSEWHERE

  • The Adirondack Flames host Milwaukee at 5pm MT.
  • In the Dub: Brandon (Klimchuk, Roy) visits Swift Current and Victoria (Carroll) visits Calgary (Kanzig).
  • In the NCAA: Colgate visits Union.
  • In the OHL: Oshawa (Smith) visits Belleville, but Smith didn’t play last night, so I think he’s still dealing with an injury.

SUM IT UP

The games will only get bigger for the Flames from here on out, but I think it’s safe to say this game and Monday’s game in Los Angeles are the two biggest games of the season to date. Win both and get some help? The Flames could be three points up on Los Angeles and have a game in hand. Lose both? They could be a ways back and have some ground to make up.

Either way, we’ll have a much clearer idea of whether this group can make the playoffs shortly.