If there’s a make-or-break game in the Calgary Flames’ 2015-16 season, it might be tonight in Columbus, Ohio.
You see, the Flames are not a great road team. They’ve lost the first two games of this road trip. They’ve lost four of their last five games. They have games against Columbus, Carolina, Dallas and Nashville before the All-Star Break. They’re already just five points up on Columbus, the NHL’s worst team, in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.
If they’re going to be a playoff team or they’re going to be a lottery team, we’re going to find out really quickly. Possibly tonight as they face John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
The puck drops at 5pm MT on Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Karri Ramo returns to the net after a three-game break. He’s 15-14-1 in 30 starts this season, with a 2.61 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He’s been pretty solid this season, but seemed to be fading due to starting a zillion games in a row. Now that he’s had a rest, perhaps he can go on another crazy run. Ladislav Smid, Mason Raymond and Josh Jooris are your scratches tonight, and potentially one of them are heading to the AHL’s Stockton Heat after this game to open up a roster spot for Lance Bouma for Sunday’s game in Carolina. (Either that or tonight is Markus Granlund’s last hurrah.)
Despite going quiet for a few games, Johnny Gaudreau opens today 9th in league scoring. He’s just 22 and is in his second season in the league, so that’s pretty impressive. He’s 16 points ahead of Sean Monahan, who’s the next-leading Flames scorer. That’s a pretty gigantic gap, and it’s representative of how much better he’s been than his teammates this season.
The Flames’ power-play scored both goals against the Devils on Tuesday, and they’ll need to be sharp if the Flames want to open a gap against the Jackets tonight. Columbus hasn’t had much success this season. We joke about the Flames being the league’s slump-buster, but they better be in desperation mode tonight, because Columbus really has nothing to lose at this point – and John Tortorella is a scary dude when he gets in the right mood.
THE BLUE JACKETS
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Sergei Bobrovsky is in net tonight. He’s 11-13-1 in 26 starts, with a 2.63 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. He’s been up and down this season, and also injured, but now he’s healthy again and hoping to drag the Blue Jackets kicking and screaming towards respectability. Probably not towards the playoffs, but we’ll see what happens.
Columbus’ roster is a weird conglomeration of players. Rene Bourque’s on this team. Scott Hartnell’s on this team. Seth Jones is on this team. Colin Campbell’s son is on this team. Jared Boll is on this team. It’s as if Jarmo Kekkalainen just said “yes” everytime anybody was available. Between injuries, inconsistency and the absolute patchwork nature of the Jackets, it’s no wonder they are where they are right now in the NHL standings.
That being said, they only have three fewer wins than the Flames, so they’re not a complete pushover by any stretch of the imagination. They’re basically the same team, except Columbus has had more injury troubles and doesn’t have wunderkind Johnny Gaudreau.
WHEN LAST WE MET
Tonight is the first meeting between Calgary and Columbus this season and the 52nd of all-time. The Flames hold a slim 23-21-7 all-time series lead. The Flames lost both their games against the Blue Jackets last year by a 3-2 score – once in regulation and once in overtime.
Just pick a direction, guys.
SUM IT UP
Are the Flames going to be a playoff team or a lottery team? We’ll have a good idea what direction they’re headed in after they face the NHL’s worst team tonight.
If they lose, you should probably start looking at getting an Auston Matthews jersey.