(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
If we had told you in say, mid-October, when the Flames couldn’t buy a damn win, that tonight’s clash between the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes would be an important game with Western Conference playoff implications, you would’ve been well in your rights to laugh right in our faces and and trot off to read Canucks Army or some such thing.
But after being a tire fire of a hockey club for the month of October, the Flames have gone 16-10-1 and gone from sitting firmly in the NHL’s basement to being firmly in the playoff pack. And while they still have some gaps in their game that they’d love to clear up – they still spend too much time in their own end for my liking – they’ve put themselves in a good spot as the first half of the season winds down. And tonight’s game features a pair of teams that are mirror images of each other in terms of how they’ve performed versus pre-season expectations: the over-achieving Coyotes and the under-achieving Flames, with two big points on the line in the Pacific Division.
With a win, the Flames can actually be in a home-ice playoff spot (temporarily, at least).
The puck drops just after 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines for tonight via Daily Faceoff:
Karri Ramo makes his 29th start of the season for the home side. He’s been quite good lately and absolutely rock-solid since returning to the NHL in late October after his brief (single period) sojourn to the American Hockey League. He’s 15-12-1 with a 2.54 goals against average and .914 save percentage this season. The only line-up change expected for tonight is the return of the line-up of Deryk Engelland, who swaps in for Ladislav Smid. It’s seemingly decision-making based on keeping both guys in the rotation, as they’ve both actually been pretty effective in limited duty.
The Flames looked good on the power-play against Tampa Bay, generating a lot of good looks and chances but were unable to bury any of them. And their discipline kept Tampa’s potent power-play off the ice, shades of last season where the Flames had success simply staying out of the box rather than relying on amazing play down a man. They’re still statistically among the worst NHL clubs in both special teams situations, but they’re making some progress. And they’re coming off probably their best two games of the season, so they should be as ready for tonight as they can be.
Tonight’s a huge opportunity for the Flames; neither they or the Coyotes are world-beaters or possession hounds, so the game should be up for grabs and it could be a gigantic two points for Calgary.
Lines from Arizona’s win against Vancouver, via Daily Faceoff:
Rookie Louis Domingue gets the start again, with Anders Lindback backing him up and Mike Smith on the injured reserve. Domingue is 4-2-2 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .926 save percentage thus far. Granted, small sample size, but that’s a pretty good start. In other changes, Martin Hanzal will be back in (while Laurent Dauphin has been returned to the AHL) and Zbynek Michalek may miss the game with a minor injury.
Arizona’s roster is a weird hodge-podge of rookies, discarded players from other organization, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Despite all this, they’ve coalesced and been effective playing Dave Tippet’s system to a tee, and as a result have made it to January in a playoff spot. That said, they’ve slowed down a tad and could be in danger of sliding down the standings before too long.
And it sounds like NHL All-Star John Scott will be a healthy scratch.
WHEN LAST WE MET
The Flames and Coyotes played to a razor-close 2-1 overtime loss back in late November in Glendale, with the Flames really dominating in terms of generating scoring chances but just being unable to bury enough to get a win.
All-time, the Flames and the Coyotes have met 183 times, with the Flames having a 87-69-20-7 record (and a massive edge in the all-time series).
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SUM IT UP
It’s a big-time game at the ‘Dome tonight! With a win, the Flames can be sitting in second place in the Pacific. With a loss, they could slide down the standings a bit and give themselves some work to do to get back into the pack.