FGD #1: Home Ice Advantage – Flames face Canucks

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(Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s been a shorter summer than we’re used to around here, but meaningful Calgary Flames hockey is finally back! Welcome to Game 1 of the 82-game 2015-16 regular season coverage here at FlamesNation!

Last season, the Flames did the unthinkable – winning enough games by hook or crook to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and beating the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs (in heart-breaking fashion) for the first time since 2004. Now, to kick off the new season, these two teams meet again. The Flames are basically the same bunch that went to the second round of the playoffs – albeit upgraded with Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik in the off-season. Vancouver? They’re in the midst of a much-needed youth movement.

In other words: the 2015-16 Vancouver Canucks are the Flames of a couple of years ago. They might not be good this season, but they’ll definitely be fun to watch – and they could be pretty damn good in a short while.

The puck drops on the 2015-16 season just after 8pm MT on Sportsnet’s national feed (with Paul Romanuk and Mike Johnson on the call), while your radio pals at Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias) have the audio for your listening pleasure. If you don’t have tickets to the game, there’s a big FREE shindig being put on by the NHL at Fort Calgary.

THE FLAMES

Your lines, via your pals at Daily Faceoff (after yesterday’s practice):

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Karri Ramo starts for the Flames, with Jonas Hiller dressing as back-up.

Injured for the Flames are T.J. Brodie, Joe Colborne and Ladislav Smid.

Bob Hartley and the coaching staff appeared to have erred on the side of “balance” throughout the line-up. The top line is pretty good, but there’s no second line. Or there’s no third, depending on how you slice it. But the Bennett line is smartly constructed – if Bennett sucks at face-offs, Josh Jooris is right there and he’s pretty good at draws – and while we do see the return of Top Six Forward Lance Bouma, it’s with Backlund and Frolik, and neither of them suck. And the fourth line? Arguably the most effective three players during the pre-season. There’s a seeming logic behind all four lines, which is nice.

On the back-end, it’s a really awesome pairing on top, a functional pairing in the middle, and Kulak and Engelland, who are what they are. They’ll get maybe ten minutes and they’ll be fine, probably. In net, it’s Karri Ramo, who played the most during the pre-season and was pretty good – although every Flames goalie was pretty good. The healthy scratches tonight are Mason Raymond and Joni Ortio.

Thing to watch: the Flames power-play was largely bad during the pre-season. They scored TWO power-play goals in eight games. That’s not good. They’ll have to be better in the regular season. A lot better.

THE CANUCKS

Lines from yesterday’s practice via Daily Faceoff:

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Ryan Miller gets the start, with Richard Bachman being flown in from Utica to dress as back-up due to an injury to Jacob Markstrom. Chris Higgins is also on the shelf.

The Canucks problem last year that aside from their good players, their team was a bit too old and slow. They’ve tried to address that by adding in Brandon Sutter (one of a few Sutters to not be a Flame at some point), Sven Baertschi (a Flames first round pick from 2011), Jared McCann, Brandon Prust (a former two-time Flame), Adam Cracknell (a former Flames pick), Matt Bartkowski (who would’ve become a Flame if Jarome Iginla had chosen Boston instead of Pittsburgh) and Ben Hutton. Not only is that a lot of change-over, it’s a nice injection of speed and youthful exuberance. (And a helpfully large number of Flames connections…)

But it’s not so much who they added, it’s who they got rid of: Eddie Lack, their BEST GOALIE in the playoffs last season is gone, and Ryan Miller’s terrible contract is still there.

Never change, Vancouver. At least they got rid of Kevin Bieksa.

Sadly, Jake Virtanen won’t make his NHL debut tonight. Despite the game being in Calgary, where he played his junior hockey with the Hitmen. Call me sentimental, but I’ve watched enough Jake Virtanen games in the WHL to be a bit sad that I won’t get to see his debut.

THE OTHER SIDE

For the curious, our pals over at Canucks Army have a preview of tonight’s match-up. As you’d expect, they’re still a bit sore about the first round loss in the spring.

But they might have gone a bit crazy over the summer…

With no Kevin Bieksa to mispronounce Micheal Ferland’s name this time around, Alex Burrows will have to play the role of shift disturber. He’s not too shabby at that. Let’s be real, though, the Canucks are better now and Ferland should be a non-factor.

WHEN LAST WE MET

Last season, Calgary and Vancouver split their four regular season meetings (Calgary won twice, Vancouver won twice, one of Vancouver’s wins was in overtime) before Calgary beat Vancouver in six games in the playoffs.

Tonight is the 260th regular season meeting between the Flames and Canucks: Calgary is 125-88-33-13 all-time.

And never forget two of the cooler/crazier recent memories from this, Calgary’s best current rivalry (sorry Edmonton, try winning some games):

Stick tap to our pals at HockeyFights.com!

HOME ICE HERO

Celebrate the volunteer, parent, coach or organizer who keeps the
game going and asks for nothing in return. Nominate your Home Ice Hero
and they could win a prize worth $5,000. Nominate your hero!

MONEY ON THE BOARD

Flames fans? Support the great work by Kids Up From Calgary by pledging here on in-game events of your choosing! Full details here!

Canucks fans? You can support the great work by Mindcheck.ca by pledging here! Full details here!

Can’t choose a side? Pledge to both great causes and enjoy what’s sure to be a really fun game tonight.

SUM IT UP

Usually it takes teams a few games to get up to speed and to get emotionally engaged in the beginning of the season, especially after how slow and dull the pre-season typically is.

But hey, we’re fortunate enough to have an all-Canadian, first round playoffs rematch on Day 1 of the regular season. Both sides should be emotionally involved from the opening face-off, and both teams have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

Sounds like a recipe for a great 60 minutes of hockey to kick this season off.