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 locals were off yesterday.
Projected lines from today’s morning skate, via Daily Faceoff:
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.
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.
|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)|
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.