(James Gullory – USA Today Sports)
After a week off to lick their wounds, the Calgary Flames’ march to the post-season OR a draft lottery pick begins tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames have 34 games remaining on the docket to claw their way back to the playoffs or to slide their way to Auston Matthews.
Their quest (in one direction or the other) begins with a mission of revenge tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flames visited Carolina in mid-January as part of their five-game road trip, and came away with a 5-2 loss.
The puck drops at 7:30pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan! (It’s a late game on the national feed, so make sure you brew some coffee and pray for those on print deadlines.)
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
(Deryk Engelland is the other third-pairing defender.)
Karri Ramo starts for the Flames, making his 35th start of the season. He’s 16-17-1 with a 2.62 goals against average and a .917 even-strength save percentage. He’s played a ton this season and been consistently good (and occasionally very good). Dennis Wideman sits tonight as part of his indefinite suspension, while Josh Jooris and Brandon Bollig are your extra healthy forwards this evening. Jakub Nakaldal returns to a familiar spot: the press box, where he’ll sit tonight as the extra defender. As of this writing, Micheal Ferland had not been activated off the injured reserve and I suspect if he’s not activated we’ll see Bollig tonight instead.
The Flames have been much better at home than on the road, and they’ll be motivated following a week off to stew after a pretty disappointing stretch to finish their pre-All-Star schedule – they went 1-5-1 in their last seven games to polish off January. The big challenge has been first periods; they’ve gotten scored on early quite frequently and had to rely on that “Find a Way Flames” magic to get back into things.
Unfortunately, they seemed to use up all that magic last season, and all they’ve been doing this season is finding ways to lose. They need to be better early in games, and they need to translate what special teams time they do generate into goals. If they can’t do those things, they’ll lose out on two much-needed points.
Via Daily Faceoff, here are Carolina’s projected lines for tonight:
Cam Ward is off the injured reserve now and fully recovered from his concussion. But the Flames will see Eddie Lack again, as he’s been playing well (and beat Calgary last month). He’s 9-9-3 with a 2.68 goals against average and .909 even-strength save percentage. The Hurricanes have summoned Phil di Giuseppe and Ryan Murphy up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and both are expected to play tonight.
The Hurricanes are an interesting bunch. They really shouldn’t be as good as they are given their injuries and the performances of some of their better-known players, but they’ve stuck around the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They’re a nice mix of older and younger players, including such youthful names as Noah Hanifin, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm. And most of all, they seem to be a team that has a bit of confidence and believe that they can get that importance “next bounce” needed to win a game.
WHEN LAST WE MET
Back on January 24, Carolina beat the Flames 5-2 back in Raleigh. It was not a good game. The Hurricanes got up 3-0 and chased Karri Ramo from the net. Jiri Hudler and Joe Colborne, who don’t score very often this season, were the team’s goal-scorers.
The Flames have a 41-19-8 record against the Hurricanes/Whalers all-time.
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THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
How close are the Calgary Flames to the NHL’s basement (and Auston Matthews)? Well, adjusting for the differences in games-played, they’re not too far off.
Both Toronto and Edmonton won yesterday, while Columbus lost (to Edmonton).
SUM IT UP
If the Flames are gonna go for a playoff spot or a lottery pick, they have to pick a direction and stick to it starting tonight. Paddling around in the NHL’s mushy middle does nothing to further their rebuild.