(Candice Ward – USA Today Sports)
Just 24 hours after losing a heartbreaker to the Edmonton Oilers, le Club de hockey Canadien (otherwise known as the Montreal Canadiens) visit the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome for a match-up with the Calgary Flames.
The Canadiens are really, really good, but historically the Flames have risen up to meet their old rival. Maybe it’s because they’ve met in two Stanley Cup Finals three decades ago, and maybe it’s because deep down the Flames have always been a staunchly proud bunch, but because this game has the potential for embarrassment, that’s the reason I think the home side comes out swinging.
For the curious: the Flames are 2-7-1, the Habs are 9-2-0, and you can catch all the action tonight on Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
The locals swapped some bodies around yesterday, sending Jakub Nakladal down to the AHL’s Stockton Heat and bringing back Karri Ramo from his one-game AHL exile.
Here are lines from Wednesday via Daily Faceoff:
Your netminder tonight is Joni Ortio (0-1-1, 2.98 goals against average, .911 save percentage), who played in relief of Jonas Hiller on Wednesday and helped capture the loser point for the Flames. He’ll be backed up by Karri Ramo. At morning skate, the extra bodies appeared to be Ladislav Smid and Brandon Bollig, which would be great if that’s the case. Lance Bouma and Micheal Ferland are on the injured reserve, and Jonas Hiller is out at least a week with a lower-body injury, but is not yet on the injured reserve.
The Flames will be playing a team that played last night. The key to victory? Tiring them out. If the Flames emphasize their speed and make the Habs run around their own end and hem them in constantly, this becomes a winnable game. But if they continually give up possession of the puck to the Habs – who are very good at ice hockey – will do their best to hold onto it and slaughter the Flames.
Calgary’s special teams continue to be a concern. Their power-play scored a goal in the third in Ottawa – after that bizarre Bobby Ryan/Jonas Hiller collision – but otherwise struggled. They need to generate more chances with the extra man and do their absolute best to keep their penalty kill off the ice (and minimize the bleeding when they do have to hit the ice). The return of T.J. Brodie has helped somewhat in both respects, and will hopefully continue to as he gets back into the swing of things.
The crowd may be a factor, too. Montreal is one of the more popular Original Six visitors whenever they come to town, and it’s likely that the crowd could get loud and hostile towards the home side should they get down a goal or two early. If the Flames can stay with it, they can either negate the crowd or get them on their side.
Keep An Eye On: Johnny Gaudreau has been Calgary’s best player for the entire season thus far. Despite being keyed-in on by most other teams, he’s put up 11 points in 10 games, and he remains Calgary’s most dangerous player. Now that he’s on a line with Sam Bennett, perhaps they can start racking up some points together.
Lines from last night’s game in Edmonton, via Daily Faceoff:
Back-up Mike Condon gets the start for Montreal after Carey Price played last night in Edmonton. Condon’s been excellent in his two starts, going 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals against average and .949 save percentage. Both aren’t sustainable, but both are pretty terrifying for the opposition.
The Habs went up early last night and threw it into cruise control, which allowed the Oilers to find a rhythm and get things rolling. So expect a tired and frustrated Habs team, but one that’ll likely be committed to playing a more consistent game and not letting it slip away from them as the game wears on.
Keep An Eye On: Let’s go with P.K. Subban, who’s just phenomenal. He’s one of four Canadiens players that are scoring a point-per-game pace. The other three? Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and new captain Max Pacioretty.
WHEN LAST WE MET
The Flames earned three of a possible four points in their two meetings with the Canadiens last season, and both games were really entertaining, to boot. The Flames lost 2-1 in a shootout on October 28 of last year, then headed to Montreal and put up a 6-2 victory five days later.
In 109 previous regular season meetings, the Flames have a 37-55-15-2 record against Montreal. They split a pair of meetings in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1986 and 1989.
The Stockton Heat are heading to southern California to visit the San Diego Gulls. In college, Boston University (Brandon Hickey) faces Merrimack and Providence College (Mark Jankowski and John Gilmour) faces Colgate. In junior, North Bay (Riley Bruce) visits Kitchener.
SUM IT UP
The Flames are playing the first game of a back-to-back. They have five points through their first 10 games. They need a big win, if only to keep hope alive in the locker room. They face a Canadiens club that played (and lost) last night, and get the back-up netminder rather than the reigning Hart Trophy winner.
This is as much help as the hockey gods might give ever them.