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.
Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:
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.
Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:
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.
|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)|
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.