FGD Round 1, Game 1: Old Friends

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our continuing coverage here at FlamesNation of the best time of the year, the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Both we and our fine colleagues at Canucks Army will be all over the next 14 days of ice hockey between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, and we thank you in advance for checking it out.

To be blunt, this match-up is probably the best-case scenario for both sides.

Moreso than basically any other opponent, this is a winnable series for each team. Neither team has a cut-and-dry number-one goalie, but both have a strong top line and a bunch of young stars that are emerging and improving. Calgary is also gutted with injuries right now – including missing three regular defensemen – and will have to rely on their top line and their attacking defense for goals. The big question is whether they can maintain their break-neck style of play over a seven-game series against the same opponent.

The puck drops just after 8pm MT on CBC (with Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, with Scott Oake) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias, with our pal Pat Steinberg).

THE FLAMES

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

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Jonas Hiller was Calgary’s most frequent starter in the regular season, and with Karri Ramo just coming back from a lower body injury, Hiller seems like the most likely guy to start Game 1. Presumably if Ramo dresses for tonight’s game, Joni Ortio will be returned to the AHL as his emergency recall will be done. Hiller made 44 starts in the regular season (and 8 relief appearances), going 26-19-4 with a 2.36 goals against average, .918 save percentage and .927 even-strength save percentage.

Projected extra bodies for tonight: Mason Raymond, who skated as an extra body this week but could slot in, along with Drew Shore and Tyler Wotherspoon. Paul Byron skated yesterday in a non-contact jersey and is said to be close. Lance Bouma, Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid and Raphael Diaz are all out, though the captain recently began skating.

It sure looked like Sam Bennett will jump in for Raymond based on line rushes at two days of practice. If he can stay as energetic as he was against Winnipeg, he could be an asset. The key for Hartley’s forward groupings appears to be balance behind the top line (though it may mean having one good line and three so-so ones), while the defensive group remains incredibly top-heavy, with the top four anticipated to be ridden heavily. Expect Corey Potter to play maybe four minutes, and for the Sedins to see a lot of the top four grouping all game long.

THE CANUCKS

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

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As of this writing, there was no confirmation of who’s starting, Eddie Lack or Ryan Miller. However, Lack started most frequently (and most successfully) down the stretch, so he seems the most likely starter. Lack went 18-13-4 with a 2.45 goals against average, .921 save percentage and .922 even-strength save percentage in 35 starts. He is, statistically, to Miller what Hiller is to Ramo – slightly superior based on the numbers and probably the goalie the Canucks should be riding in the post-season. Whether Willie Desjardins does so is yet to be determined.

The extras for the Canucks right now are Ryan Stanton, Brandon McMillan and Linden Vey. Zack Kassian is the lone significant injury, out with a back injury. Brad Richardson skated on a regular line in practice and is expected to play.

The Canucks pose an interesting challenge. They’re a good mix of size and speed, and their top six – anchored by the superlative Sedin twins – is really strong and has good balance. Their big issue is that their team is top-heavy, in terms of points production – their offense is driven by their top line primarily, and they don’t get as much from their defenders as the Flames do. The Canucks have three players with 60+ points (which is good) and zero players producing between 40 and 60. Calgary, for contrast, also has three players at 60+ points, but also has three players (all defensemen) with between 40 and 60 points. In short: if the Flames can shut down the Canucks top group without giving up too much to their bottom grouping, they can win.

But, you know, the Canucks are probably saying the exactly same thing about the Monahan/Hudler/Gaudreau line. The next seven (or so) games will be an interesting test of each group’s mettle.

THE NUMBERS

(Regular
Season)
Calgary Vancouver
Wins 45 48
Last Ten 6-3-1 6-3-1
Power Play 18.8% (13th) 19.3% (8th)
Penalty Kill 80.6% (20th) 85.7% (2nd)
Corsi 44.4% (28th) 49.5% (19th)
Corsi Close 45.1% (28th) 50.7% (18th)
Faceoffs 47.4% (26th) 46.7% (29th)
PDO 101.1 (6th) 99.4 (24th)

SUM IT UP

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, you guys. The Calgary Flames are in the playoffs. It’s Game 1. There will be plenty of time and space for the gnashing of teeth and analysis of all aspects of this game. But try not to fret too much today. The Flames did what few expected them to do. They made the post-season.

Try to enjoy it while it lasts.

  • scoopz

    Getting Bouma and Byron back would go a long way. Here’s hoping they can get healthy!

    I’d really like to see Wotherspoon instead of Potter as well. He looked good last Saturday.

  • Lordmork

    I sure wish the Flames would ice the best possible team, rather than making Brodie haul around Engelland, playing Potter for four minutes a game, and having whatever a Brandon Bollig is in the lineup.

    Gonna be a really exciting game. I can’t wait to see which Flames have a higher playoff gear.

  • Aaron Ward predicted us to win this series, and as we all know, he’s clearly a genius. So we’ve got that going for us as well!

    Side note, I’m at the game in Van tonight, and I’m hoping I don’t get caught in any riots on my way home…

    Go Flames go!

  • How is Potter still being dressed instead of Wotherspoon? Is left hand right hand balance that important? I would think having a defence man who can play more than 3 or 4 minutes a night would be more important

    • Parallex

      It’s interesting to see that Hartley seems to have such little confidence in Potter (based on Potter only playing a handful of shifts each game), but apparently has even less in Wotherspoon.

  • slapshot444

    Whats the scoop on Bouma? Upper body, but what? Last time on ice he took a puck to the chest as he fell in front of a shot. Should have been well protected there . Radio comments are ” won’t see him anytime soon”?
    Anyone???

  • mk

    Is there anything riding on this series for FN and CA? Like a bet to do the game-day posts for the other team if they win (like there used to be for BoA games)?

    If there isn’t, there should be. 🙂

  • Parallex

    If it were up to me, I’d roll the following forward lines for game 1:

    Johnny-Mony-Hudler Bennett-Backs-Byron Shore-Staj-Jones Ferly-Grans-Jooris

    Shore has been super solid defensively imo. Slot him onto a line with Stajan and Jones and try to match them against the sedins as much as possible. Effectively our shutdown line. Granlund and jooris have shown great chemistry lately and Ferland has been one of our best forwards the past couple games, so pair those three together on the bottom line and give them the high ground as much as possible. Keep the first line the same (obviously) and then put Byron on that second line to push possession with backlund and then let Bennett go to work in the offensive zone.

    All speculative because I bet hartley scratches Byron and shore and plays Colborne and Bollig instead, but this is the lineup id ice.