FGD: The 219th Battle of Alberta (8pm MT, CBC)

After a pair of good third period efforts paired with shoddy starts resulted in a win and a loss since the All-Star Break, the Calgary Flames will be hoping to get back to consistent 60-minute efforts tonight. Why?

It’s the 219th edition of the Battle of Alberta!

In addition to bragging rights – the Flames captured their 110th win all-time over Edmonton on New Year’s Eve via Josh Jooris’ overtime heroics (and hold an overall 110-87-21 record) – the Flames are now in the midst of a playoff battle. With 33 games remaining on the docket, the Flames (26-20-3) have 55 points and enter the evening’s festivities a point up on the Kings for the final wild-card spot, but also spitting distance away from Winnipeg (in the first wild-card spot) and both San Jose and Vancouver in divisional spots.

A win would do a great deal of good for Calgary’s playoff chances, particularly heading into a week where they host Winnipeg, San Jose and the Pittsburgh Penguins. While there are no easy games in the National Hockey League, Edmonton (13-27-9) is the most favourable match-up they’ll get for awhile. They’d be smart to use this game to get themselves into fighting shape, because this coming week will feature some absolute battles for playoff position.

The puck drops at 8pm MT on CBC (with Paul Romanuk and Mike Johnson) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias).

THE FLAMES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

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Jonas Hiller should get the start once again. It’s his 29th start of the season. He’s 14-14-2, with a 2.37 goals against average, .914 save percentage and a .930 even-strength save percentage. He’s backed up by Karri Ramo, who’s perfectly fine but hasn’t played a full game since December 11 (or won a game since December 4). Despite all the hubbub about Calgary’s goaltending this season, the team’s .923 even-strength save percentage is right at the league’s mid-point.

The Flames aren’t expected to make line-up changes, except that both Kris Russell and Jiri Hudler missed the morning skate due to illness, which makes them both game-time decisions. If one or both are absent, then the lines become utter chaos. David Wolf also took a whirl on the fourth line in Paul Byron’s place this morning, so there’s a small chance that Wolf debuts in place of the Breakaway Master himself. And after a pair of games where they came out of the gates flat, maybe some youthful exuberance is exactly what they need.

Calgary has won five of their last seven games and this game begins their eighth seven-game segment of the season. They’ve earned at least eight points in six of the preceding seven segments, and they’ll need to continue at that clip to stay in the playoff picture. They were shut out for the first time this season against Minnesota. Their power-play scored against Buffalo but hasn’t scored in consecutive games since early December, and the Gaudreau power-play goal on Tuesday was the third power-play goal since Christmas. It needs to be more productive, particularly given Calgary’s propensity of getting out-shot at even-strength.

THE OILERS

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

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Ben Scrivens is expected to start for the 33rd time this season after getting a win against Buffalo in the McDavid Bowl earlier this week. He’s 9-16-7 with a 3.02 goals against average, .895 save percentage and .900 even-strength save percentage. He’s backed-up by Victor Fasth, who’s actually statistically worse, if you can believe that. Edmonton is second-last in the NHL in even-strength save percentage, ahead of only Minnesota.

Edmonton’s without Taylor Hall, but they’ve been winning anyway, having wins in three of their last four outings. Their penalty kill has been a source of strength for a team that’s lousy at even-strength, having allowed just a single power play goal in the last eight games.

They’ll need that to continue, and for their score-by-committee approach to continue as well, to get a win in the Saddledome tonight.

THE NUMBERS

Calgary Edmonton
Wins 26 13
Power Play 16.6% (23rd) 13.4% (28th)
Penalty Kill 76.7% (26th) 79.9% (23rd)
Corsi 44.9% (28th) 49.3% (21st)
Corsi Close 45.2% (26th) 48.6% (22nd)
Faceoffs 47.1% (28th) 49.1% (19th)
PDO 101.0 (6th) 97.4 (30th)

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

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Here’s what’s on the docket:

  • Los Angeles (54 points) plays Boston. They’re just a point back from Calgary and have a game in hand (that they’ll still have after tonight). Go Bruins. That game’s on the main Sportsnet feed.
  • Dallas (51 points) faces Winnipeg (60 points) in a key match-up. The Stars are four back of Calgary with a game in hand. Winnipeg is five up on Calgary, with the Flames having a game in hand. I think best-case scenario is a Dallas regulation win, but I also just hope for a game that ends in regulation. This airs on City TV.
  • In the late game (8:30pm MT) on Sportsnet, the Sharks (58 points) host Chicago. San Jose sits three up on Calgary and are even in games played. A Chicago win (paired with a Flames win) could do wonders for Calgary’s divisional playoff hopes.

REMEMBER WHEN…

Even Kevin Westgarth had a goal…

SUM IT UP

The Flames need a win tonight, as back-to-back losses would be problematic as they chase their playoff dreams. On the flip side, there’s nothing the Edmonton Oilers organization enjoys more than dashing the dreams of the Calgary Flames, so tonight should be a spirited tilt. The Flames better be on their game for more than just a period tonight, because they simply cannot continue having such bad starts if they expect to win games down the stretch.