FGD #48: Buffalo Visits the ‘Dome (7pm MT, SN West)

After five days without meaningful hockey, the Calgary Flames are back in action tonight as they begin their pursuit of their five playoff berth since 2009.

The back-half of their schedule begins with the Flames (25-19-3; 53 points) hosting the NHL’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres (14-30-3; 31 points) at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames are rested and coming off a very successful road trip that saw them win four of five, all against divisional opponents. They cannot afford to take the Sabres lightly, nor can they afford to let any points slip away against an opponent they should be able to beat.

Long story short: the Flames better win this one, because after a short stretch of “easier” games (including visits from Minnesota and Edmonton later this week), the competition amps back up. If they can bank some points in the front end of this homestand, then they can give themselves a bit of breathing room in the Western Conference playoff race.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm MT and you can catch the action on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

THE FLAMES

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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With Joni Ortio back in Glens Falls (for the time being), Jonas Hiller gets the start tonight. He’s 13-13-2, with a 2.47 goals against average, .911 save percentage and .926 even-strength save percentage. Back from injury and rested up, Karri Ramo will be his back-up.

Your extra bodies tonight are most likely call-ups Tyler Wotherspoon, Sven Baertschi and David Wolf. Curtis Glencross and Ladislav Smid remain on the IR, while Sam Bennett remains on the non-roster injured list (but he is skating alone now). However, Hudler was sent home sick this morning, so per coach Hartley he’s a game-time decision. Sven Baertschi took reps in his place, so 27 slots in if 24 can’t go.

The Flames have some momentum right now; they won four of five on the road in some tough buildings against some good teams, and that’s without their power-play doing much. Arguably the team’s coldest area right now is their extra-man play; they’ve scored just two power-play goals since Christmas, and they haven’t scored power-play markers in consecutive games since December 9 and 11. For this team to be successful, they need to get more from their special teams group.

Last time the Flames met the Sabres in Buffalo, the Sabres won 4-3 by virtue of a 42-save performance by Enroth. The Flames likely want to atone for leaving upstate New York empty-handed back in December.

THE SABRES

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Jhonas Enroth gets the start tonight for the visitors. He’s 11-17-2, with a 3.41 goals against average, .899 save percentage and .914 even-strength save percentage. He may be the most statistically mediocre starting goaltending in the National Hockey League. Matt Hackett is his back-up.

The leading scorer of the Buffalo Sabres is Tyler Ennis, who has 28 points. If he was traded to Calgary tomorrow, he’d be tied with Dennis Wideman for sixth on the team. Granted, Calgary’s scored more than everyone expected, but that’s a big jump.\

The Sabres are a bad hockey team, particularly possession-wise. They are almost historically bad in that sense. They always get out-shot. They usually get out-scored. And we’re 47 games into the season and you’ve gotta wonder if a year like this isn’t wearing on the team mentally.

I mean, the Sabres were pretty bad last season. This season they’re even worse.

THE NUMBERS

FLAMES SABRES
Wins 25 14
Power Play 16.5% (23rd) 9.9% (30th)
Penalty Kill 77.0% (26th) 73.8% (30th)
Corsi 44.4% (28th) 37.6% (30th)
Corsi Close 44.6% (28th) 37.0% (30th)
Faceoffs 46.8% (28th) 45.3% (30th)
PDO 101.0 (5th) 99.4 (22nd)

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

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There are five games tonight to keep an eye on:

  • The Canucks battle the Ducks. Vancouver is two points up on Calgary and have two games in hand. A Ducks win helps the Flames a lot.
  • The Minnesota Wild face the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton is bad and Minnesota is the worst of the teams still in the playoff picture. Realistically either team could win, particularly with the X-factor of Devan Dubnyk in net for the Wild. That said, I expect an Oilers loss because what do the Oilers have to play for nowadays? (Connor McDavid.)
  • The Pekka Rinne-less Nashville Predators face the Colorado Avalanche, who are now without Erik Johnson for a long time. The Avs are just three points back of Calgary (though the Flames have a game in hand), while the Predators find themselves with Carter Hutton as their top goalie. Yes, Carter Hutton.
  • Dallas heads to Montreal to face the Habs! The Stars are four back of Calgary and have a game in hand, but face Carey Price and a pretty motivated Canadiens team.
  • Finally, the Jets play the Malkin and Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. There’s no better time for the Jets to face the Pens, so I expect another Winnipeg win.

Best Case Scenario: regulation wins by Anaheim, Edmonton, Nashville, Montreal and Pittsburgh.

Expected Scenario: regulation wins by Anaheim, Minnesota, Nashville, Montreal and Winnipeg.

SUM IT UP

Meaningful hockey is back, and tonight represents a game the Calgary Flames both should win and need to win. After all, after this stretch of “easier” games, the Flames get thrown back into the Western Conference fire.

So make hay while the sun shines and all that.

  • cgyokgn

    Slow start but fantastic finish. It’s satisfying to soundly beat teams that you should. Actually tied with the Nucks in points but the Nucks have 2 games in hand (and one more ROW).

  • Dayzz

    Colborne seems like he is finally establishing himself as an offensive contributor. He has always had the tools, but just needed to put them all together and now it seems that is happening for him. This definitely seems like another case of a skilled player taking his time in growing into his large frame (he put on some serious pounds over the off season if I recall correctly); really makes you wonder if Jankowski’s development might be similar to Colborne’s. In any case, its best to just forget the kid exists and let him develop at his own pace. The kid likely doesn’t have much trade value at the moment so it seems the only plausible option, and who knows we might just get another Colborne 2.0 in a few years.
    Anyways, another strong third by the Flames! Cheers!

    • Dayzz

      Against soft teams like the Sabres its OK…against the beefy Pacific it will be GlenX/Mony/Jones….By the way Jones looked good tonight. Or Bouma if GlenX is injured.

      • amaninvan

        When you have last change, you can match up whoever you like against the Pacific teams. Having Backlund back means you can use him as a defensive presence, instead of Mony and Jones with GlenX (or Bouma).

        In games where Johnny played with Monahan for the night, he has 5 points. That is two games.
        One was against LA, in LA.

        2/3 of the Bouma/Backlund/Jones line was effective tonight. Same for the Raymond/Jooris/Colborne line.

        If you ask me, Sven lines up better with Backlund than Bouma, or better than Raymond with Jooris. Bouma is best used as a 4th liner and Raymond is on par with Byron these days.

        So Hartley could go with the following and not suffer too much ill effects (but he won’t):

        Johnny/Monahan/Hudler
        Sven/Backlund/Jones
        Wolf/Jooris/Colborne
        Bollig/Stajan/Bouma

  • beloch

    Diaz actually looked decent tonight. He must have seen Wotherspoon drooling over his spot in the roster or something.

    Man… What is it with the Flames and third periods? They played down to the Sabres’ level in the first, started to wake up in the second and, as usual, did hits of PCP in the second intermission and came out screaming for blood in the third. I think Enroth cried after that last goal.

      • FeyWest

        I think Diaz is better than Engellund on most nights it’s just unfortunate he seems to have the 7th d-man title I’m with you and would like to see a Diaz Wotherspoon pairing for a game or 2.

    • Dayzz

      I really think the Flames’ strong third periods have to do with Hartley stressing the importance of conditioning. It seems that after two periods other teams are slowing down while our boys still have a tonne of juice still left in the tank.

    • Craig

      I do feel a little bad for enroth, dude played pretty well, he’s trying to carry an AHL team in the NHL. His stats are just never going to be near average even though I’d say he looked pretty good tonight.

  • prendrefeu

    Edmonton vs Buffalo reminds me of that South Park episode where the boys are in a little league team, and if they keep winning, their season goes on much to their dismay. If they win, that means their season goes on and they miss their summer, and can’t play video games.

    “You’re going to win!”

    “No, YOU’RE gonna win!”

    “Not likely. We suck!”

    “No, WE suck!”