FGD #59: Western Night (7pm MT, SN West)

With just 24 games left to go, things continue to get real for the Calgary Flames. Tonight, they finish off their homestand and play their final home game until after the Tim Hortons Brier – until March 11 – as they face the Anaheim Ducks. (Coincidentally, the March 11 game is also against Anaheim…)

The Flames (32-22-4) are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild in a game where the Flames probably deserved better. Regardless of the loss, the Flames are 7-3-1 in the 11 games since the All-Star Break. They host the Ducks (35-16-7), who have lost five of their last six games and are 4-6-1 since the All-Star Break. The Ducks aren’t in any real danger of losing ground, but they need momentum as they head into the playoffs.

Puck drop is at 7pm MT tonight on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan. Oh, and it’s Western Night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, y’all!

THE FLAMES

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Jonas Hiller gets the start once more, now that he’s fully over his illness and was able to get the Flames a point last game. He’s 19-16-3 with a 2.39 goals against average and .914 save percentage – basically league average – and will be making his 36th start of the season.

Aside from that, Markus Granlund has been recalled and is expected to play, so presumably Brandon Bollig comes out, though it could always be somebody else. But Paul Byron likely won’t play, nor will Ladislav Smid or Sam Bennett. They’re all hurt. Smid’s skating again though, so that’s good news.

Calgary can be competitive against the Ducks tonight, but they NEED TO BE BETTER IN THE FIRST PERIOD. Like, flat-out. They’ve lacked structure and intensity early on in games, and they get behind the eight-ball and have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to get some points. Quite simply – they just need to be less wildly uneven between the first and third periods.

THE DUCKS

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

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John Gibson is likely to start tonight. He’s 3-4-0 with a 2.94 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. He’s backed up by Ilya Bryzgalov, who keeps getting jobs in this league despite being bonkers, while Frederik Andersen is hurt. That’s a shame, because the Ducks have gotten LIT UP lately, and having a healthy Andersen could help a ton.

There’s a lot of really good pieces on the Ducks roster, but at the same time they’re missing some key guys, too. They’re missing Andersen, Sheldon Souray, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Matt Beleskey. Each creates a whole that’s tough to fill. Anaheim’s defense is probably their weakness right now, and between defensive injuries and goaltending, that ripples throughout their game-plan.

Long story short: this is a winnable game for the Calgary Flames. If they can get to Gibson early and get the defense (and goalie) rattled, they have the ability to control the game. However, the Ducks have a ton of firepower and the key will be playing structured defense, keeping those skilled players on their heels, and figuring out ways to counter-attack and hurt the Ducks when and where they can.

THE NUMBERS

Calgary Anaheim
Wins 32 35
Power Play 17.5% (23rd) 17.7% (18th)
Penalty Kill 79.8% (22nd) 81.3% (16th)
Corsi 44.8% (28th) 50.9% (16th)
Corsi Close 44.9% (28th) 51.0% (16th)
Faceoffs 47.8% (27th) 51.3% (10th)
PDO 101.1 (5th) 100.0 (19th)

THE DRIVE TO 95

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Flames win, they hit 70 points (with a game in hand on Winnipeg). They lose, they burn off a game in hand on San Jose and Winnipeg. They need 27 points to hit 95. With 24 games remaining, that’s a 13-10-1 run from here on out.

Elsewhere tonight:

  • At 5pm MT, Vancouver visits New Jersey! Vancouver played last night, but the Devils are not particularly good.
  • At 6:30pm MT, Colorado faces Chicago! A loss for Colorado probably drops them off the face of the Earth.
  • At 7pm MT, Minnesota visits Edmonton! Edmonton is bad but playing well lately, and it would sure be swell of them if they could win tonight, eh?

SUM IT UP

It’s a Wild West shootout tonight at the ‘Dome with two very important points on the line. And the last home game prior to a SEVEN-GAME BRIER ROAD TRIP. Considering the team’s iffy record against the Eastern Conference, banking some points in-conference before embarking on the mega-trip is probably the best course of action.

P.S. Wear cowboy boots tonight.