(Candice Ward/USA Today Sports)
The Christmas break is over and it’s time to get back down to business.
Tonight is the 35th game of the Calgary Flames 2015-16 season. After an abysmal month of October, and despite playing a fairly flawed style of hockey for the past 34 games, the Flames head into the meat of their schedule with a .500 record (16-16-2) and a ton of momentum at home. In fact, the Flames hit the ice a point out of a playoff spot and if somehow the rest of the team can figure out how to play hockey the way that Johnny Gaudreau and T.J. Brodie do, maybe they can shock the world again and make the playoffs again.
Needless to say, it’s going to be an interesting ride the rest of the way, and the Flames kick off a crucial three-game Pacific Division home-stand tonight against their old friends from up the road, the Edmonton Oilers.
The puck drops at 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Karri Ramo starts, because this game takes place on a day of the week ending in Y and he’s not flu-ridden. He’s 12-10-1 with a 2.74 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. He’s been good lately and since his return to the net on Halloween, he’s started all but three contests for the Flames and has gone 12-7-1.
Johnny Gaudreau is the NHL’s leading scorer so far in December. He’s got 10 goals in 10 games. He’s been Calgary’s best player, though T.J. Brodie is a close second (and Sean Monahan is coming along quietly this month and Mark Giordano’s also been rock-solid). And for all his faults, occasional center Joe Colborne has won two-thirds of his faceoffs this month, making him the only person not named Josh Jooris that has won 50+% of their draws this month. The line shuffling lately makes a lot of sense when you consider that Markus Granlund and Sam Bennett are both in the 30% range with their face-offs in December – for all the chemistry, it’s insane to keep that duo together when neither can win a draw.
The key to a Flames victory tonight? Karri Ramo needs to be solid, and the Flames absolutely need to ratchet up the pace early and tire the Edmontonians out. If they can get the Oilers on their heels early – a group that lost last night and is missing a ton of key bodies – maybe they can break their spirits and give themselves a bit of an easier evening as they try to work off their Christmas turkey dinners.
Fun Fact: The Flames have yet to score multiple power-play goals in a single game this season. They’ve allowed multiple power-play goals five times, including in their last meeting against Edmonton on Halloween.
More Fun Fact: The Flames can set their franchise record for consecutive home wins with a victory tonight.
Last night’s lines via Daily Faceoff:
Since Cam Talbot started in Vancouver, I’d suspect that Anders Nilsson gets the nod for Edmonton tonight. The Oilers lost to the Canucks in overtime last night, then hopped on a plane and flew to Calgary. They probably won’t skate before the game, so any line prognosticating will just be guess-work. Their extra bodies last night were Brandon Davidson and Jujhar Khaira.
Let’s face it, the Oilers are a scrappy bunch that are playing much better structural hockey under coach Todd McLellan, but their depth is stretched thin with them currently without Rob Klinkhammer, Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov, Andrew Ference and Oscar Klefbom. And since they played and lost last night and are playing a rested Flames team, they’ll probably do their best to slow the game down and keep things low-event. It’ll be tough, though, considering that the Flames have last change and can likely minimize the amount the Oilers can victimize the Wideman/Engelland defensive pair.
WHEN LAST WE MET
This is the third meeting this season between the two clubs. Each team has won a game, with the home side losing every game thus far. The Flames lost 5-2 back on October 17 in Calgary, but won a wild 5-4 game on October 31 that kicked off Karri Ramo’s stint as Calgary’s #1 goalie.
In 222nd previous Battles of Alberta, Calgary has a 113-88-21 record.
DID YOU KNOW?
Heading into tonight, in franchise history the Flames have played the Edmonton Oilers as much as the Los Angeles Kings. The only team the Flames have faced more than Edmonton or LA is the Vancouver Canucks.
Smythe Division for life!
HOME ICE HERO
Celebrate the referee, volunteer, time-keeper, organizer or other great person 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 by clicking this link!
SUM IT UP
Neither team is a world-beater right now, but the Battle of Alberta has gained meaning this season because of how bad the Pacific Division is putting both teams within spitting distance of a playoff spot. The Flames could go a long way towards giving themselves a bit of breathing room with two points against their greatest historical rival.