FGD #51: Meet The Jets (7pm MT, SN West)

There are dates on the calendar that you circle in this line of work, because they have the potential to be something special. Games against Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver are often circled. And with the recent return of Winnipeg to the National Hockey League, games against the Jets have been added to that list.

Suffice it to say, tonight’s game between the Calgary Flames (27-20-3) and the Winnipeg Jets (26-17-8) could be something special.

First of all, it’s a Calgary date with the Jets. In part because of the mobility of Western Canadians, and in part because everyone was equal part sad to see the Jets disappear and happy to see them return, the Saddledome is uniquely energized when they come to town.

Second of all, the Jets club has become quietly one of the better success stories in the league. They missed the playoffs by a hefty margin last season but have rounded out into one of the more entertaining teams to watch.

And finally, this game has HUGE playoff implications for the Calgary Flames. The Flames enter tonight three points back of the Jets for the first wild-card position and hold a game in hand. Win tonight, and the Flames can be just a single point back with a game in hand (and put another team between them and the Los Angeles Kings). Lose, and the Flames could be five points back.

The puck drops for the second game of their season series at 7pm MT. You can catch the action on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!

For a look from the other side, check out JetsNation’s preview!

THE FLAMES

The locals were off yesterday.

Projected lines from today’s morning skate, via Daily Faceoff:

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As usual, expect Jonas Hiller to mind the net for the Flames, getting his 30th start of the season. He’s 15-14-2, with a 2.36 goals against average, .914 save percentage and .929 even-strength save percentage. He’s backed up by Karri Ramo.

Mikael Backlund (illness) missed morning skate but was expected to play, as noted by coach Bob Hartley. Sam Bennett (shoulder) joined the main group for morning skate in a non-contact jersey. David Wolf (laceration) will be out a week, as it was a pretty nasty cut, and the team’s recalled Markus Granlund from the farm to fill his spot. Curtis Glencross (lower body) skated on his own before practice. Ladislav Smid (upper body?) is still in the gym and not back skating yet. Long story short: it’s the usual line-up tonight…which means Jiri Hudler returns to action, which is only ever good news for this group.

THE JETS

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Arguably the biggest reason for the resurgence of the Winnipeg Jets has been rookie goaltender Michael Hutchison. He gets the start tonight (and Ondrej Pavelec goes tomorrow in Vancouver). Hutchison would be on my Calder ballot. He’s 14-6-2 with a 2.15 goals against average, .927 save percentage and .939 save percentage.

The Jets have a pretty solid hockey club. They’ve quietly developed into one of the NHL’s best puck possession teams, relying on a nice combination of size and speed to keep things rolling along. They’re anchored by Dustin Byfugien, and no, that’s not a fat joke. He’s just a big part of their team. They’ve got a lot of good pieces up front, including their entire top six. If they have a weakness, it’s their bottom six.

Long story short: the Flames will need to be on their game from puck-drop to get two points tonight.

THE NUMBERS

Calgary Winnipeg
Wins 27 26
Power Play 16.8% (23rd) 17.1% (21st)
Penalty Kill 76.9% (27th) 81.4% (16th)
Corsi 45.1% (28th) 52.2% (8th)
Corsi Close 45.3% (27th) 53.4% (5th)
Faceoffs 47.5% (27th) 48.1% (23rd)
PDO 101.0 (6th) 100.4 (14th)

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

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It’s a quiet night in the NHL, with the only other game with playoff implications for the Flames being a contest between the San Jose Sharks and the Edmonton Oilers.

SUM IT UP

The Flames continue their pursuit of a playoff spot with a playoff-esque battle tonight at the Saddledome. They’ve adopted a one game at a time mentality, but you’ve gotta believe they’ve looked ahead a bit in the schedule and are hoping to bank as many points as they can before their have that Brier Road Trip of Doom late this month.

    • MonsterPod

      Byron is doing everything right. I really hope he can find some finish because he would be a valuable little firecracker if he could pot 15/yr.

      It would also make me feel a little bit better about the horrific Regher trade that moved my favourite Flame at the time.

      GFG

  • cgyokgn

    Nice not to be biting my nails the last few minutes of a game… important win for the Flames: now within one of the Jets and jump over the Nucks for 3rd in the division.

  • RKD

    As an Oilers fan I hope we can do you guys a favour tonight. Seriously wouldn’t mind seeing the flames make the playoffs. It could be good to see how far they could go.

  • everton fc

    I may be one of the few Flames fans who doesn’t hate the Oilers. Eberle’s toe-drag goal was brilliant. They have so much talent. Perhaps the right coach puts them in the same spot the Flames are in, next season.

    Hartley is a huge part of our success. He’s a winner.

      • everton fc

        I think Nelson is that guy. He’s under zero pressure, really. His first gig behind an NHL bench chockfull of talent. Couldn’t have asked for a better challenge for a guy who is indeed competitive.

        Seems the players want too play for Nelson. They have belief once again. Or so it seems.

    • RKD

      No offense man..but how do you NOT HATE the Oilers. Biggest bunch of stuck up pricks in their day and they deserve every second of this everlasting hell they are in. May it last forever!

        • beloch

          As a life long Flames fan living 300 km North of Edmonton deep in the heart of Oil Country for 25 years of my life believe me when I say that jersey makes me see red. All my classmates were oilers fans and all my coworkers. Everyone I know pretty much. And that SUCKED!

          Forced to read Terry Jones tripe and Edmonton sports sections on coffee breaks and in the library before class in the days before Internet. Turning the tables the last how very many years has been great and even though the Flames haven’t been no screaming hell either we still always manage to finish ahead of Edmonton. Thumbs up.

          Their silence has been deafening

  • RKD

    Well I missed most of the game b/c of work but I saw some of the 3rd period. Big win by the boys! If the Jets aren’t careful and don’t start playing well they could just as easily see their wild card playoff dreams come to a screeching halt. The Flames have closed the gap on the Jets big time, this was a massive victory. Glad to see Sven in the lineup and get an assist.

  • beloch

    The Flames had a CF% of 45.2% and a FF% of 51.2%. Given that the Jets are one of the league’s better possession teams and were chasing for more than half the game, that’s pretty darned good.

    Mark my words, one of these days Byron is going to stop hitting posts all the time and go on a tear. Given how he’s been playing, he’s past due for a good, long, scoring streak.

  • cgyokgn

    Warrior of the game has to be Kris Russell – he had nine blocked shots (and two hits). The Flames had 22 blocked shots vs only nine by the Jets which kept their shots on goal very low.