The Calgary Flames began their rebuild with two big problems. First, they weren’t particularly good. Second, they were in the Pacific Division, a veritable murderer’s row of hockey teams that didn’t suck. In particular? They would have to face the three California teams a lot.
Me? I kind-of liked the realignment, because it repeatedly put the Flames face-to-face with the type of teams they’d need to regularly beat to get to that next level. I don’t think anybody really anticipated how things would turn out this season.
The Flames have already won their season series with the Kings, winning each contest by a goal (two of ’em in overtime). In fact, the Flames have amassed an 8-3 record against the three California teams this season (after going 6-7-1 last season against ’em). They have four games against the California teams (two with the Kings and two with the Ducks) and desperately need the points, particularly tonight.
- If the Flames win in regulation, they’ll be seven points up on Los Angeles (65 to 58) with the Kings having a game in hand.
- If the Kings win in regulation, they’ll be just three points back of Calgary (63 to 60) with a game in hand.
In the words of the great philosopher Plato: Just win, baby.
It’s another late one tonight: puck drop is after 8:30pm MT on Sportsnet 960 and Sportsnet West!
Projected lines, via Derek Wills of Sportsnet 960:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
Bouma – Backlund – Jones
Glencross – Stajan – Raymond
Bollig – Colborne – Byron
Giordano – Brodie
Russell – Wideman
Diaz – Engelland
Jonas Hiller is expected to start. It’ll be start number 34 for Hiller this season. He’s 18-15-2, with a 2.34 goals against average, .915 save percentage and .927 even-strength save percentage. Calgary’s return to league-average goaltending has been a big, big part of their recovery as a franchise this season.
The sitters tonight are Corey Potter, Josh Jooris and David Wolf, it appears. Ladislav Smid and Sam Bennett remain on the injured list. The team appears to be attempting to balance skill and size on their bottom six. Bollig’s inclusion doesn’t shock me, as his game in Los Angeles – where he drew a key penalty late with a timely hit on Anze Kopitar – was one of his best as a Flame.
Lines, via Daily Faceoff:
Jonathan Quick is expected to start. It’s his 45th start of the season. He’s 19-15-10 with a 2.52 goals against average, .909 save percentage and .920 even-strength save percentage. While the Flames have been bolstered by league-average goaltending, the Kings have been hampered by a return to league-average net-minding after being well above the norm for several seasons.
The Kings continue to be hampered by injuries, though they’ve gotten healthier recently. But they’re still missing Tanner Pearson and Alec Martinez, a pair of very useful young players. That said, despite missing some key bodies, the Kings remain a strong, well-constructed team. They have recently broken up their best defensive pairing – and one of the better ones in the NHL – in Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, presumably to give their crew better balance. It’s an approach that’s worked for their forward ranks – having a good mix of offensive skill throughout the line-up rather than just on the top couple lines – and you can argue it’s an approach Calgary’s attempted to mimic at times this season.
|Power Play||17.3% (20th)||19.4% (12th)|
|Penalty Kill||78.9% (24th)||78.2% (27th)|
|Corsi||44.8% (28th)||54.5% (1st)|
|Corsi Close||45.1% (28th)||52.1% (11th)|
|Faceoffs||47.6% (27th)||51.2% (11th)|
|PDO||101.1 (7th)||99.5 (21st)|
Here’s what on the docket tonight:
- Winnipeg (66 points), freshly loaded up with Buffalo Sabres, goes to Nashville for a key divisional game with the Predators. Nashville is really good this year and could help the Flames by pummeling the Jets.
- The Minnesota Wild (59 points) host a club with the extra same number of points, the Florida Panthers. This game is a coin toss, but eventually Devan Dubnyk has to start being lousy again, right?
- Colorado (55 points) hosts the powerhouse New York Rangers in Denver.
Idea scenario: Flames, Nashville, Florida and the Rangers win tonight. I expect at least two of those games to go that way.
SUM IT UP
If the Flames have dreams of the postseason, they need to win. Tonight’s yet another edition of “the most important game of the year.”
And after tonight, there’s just 27 dates left on the docket.