Today is Hockey Day in Canada throughout this great land and the National Hockey League has scheduled four games involving the seven Canadian teams (and Colorado) as part of the celebration. But when you look at the standings and see zero Canadian teams in a playoff spot – and most quietly creeping away from the playoff pictures in their respective conferences – it might not seem like a great time for celebration.
Case in point? The Calgary Flames, fresh off a 2-1 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, travel to Vancouver to face the Canucks who are themselves fresh off a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Thursday. The Flames outwardly keep claiming that they’re still in this thing, but they’re three games below .500, 9 points out of a wild-card spot (and 10 out of a divisional spot), and part of a six-way tie for dead-last in the NHL.
They haven’t waved the white flag just yet, but they’re probably starting to unfurl it.
The puck drops tonight at 8pm MT on CBC (with Paul Romanuk and Mike Johnson) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias).
Last night’s lines via Daily Faceoff:
The Flames don’t skate today before the game as they traveled right after last night’s loss, so it’s basically line-up guesswork right now. I would guess that Jonas Hiller gets the start tonight after Ramo’s close loss last night, but I could be wrong. Hiller is 5-5-1 with a 3.16 goals against average and an .897 even-strength save percentage in 12 starts.
The Flames are 2-5-0 on the back-end of back-to-backs this season. They played a high-energy, low-finesse game last night, biffing on passes and frequently turning the puck over when they gained the offensive zone. They need to be better against the Canucks tonight and use their speed to their advantage. And hey, maybe somebody other than Sam Bennett or Micheal Ferland could hit somebody, too.
The biggest challenge for the Flames will be dictating the pace of play. Far too often this year, even at home, they’ve allowed the opposition to decide what kind of game will be played. After 50 games of that, they need to pull something, anything, together for them to string a few wins together. Or maybe even just a few complete 60-minute efforts with some smart execution.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
A few line-up notes for the team in blue tonight: sounds like Ryan Miller starts despite losing on Thursday (he’s 11-14-8 with a 2.65 goals against average and .925 even-strength save percentage), Dan Hamhuis returns to the line-up after missing 21 games due to injury, and former Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen rotates back into the line-up after being scratched on Thursday. Presumably Derek Dorsett rotates out, but that’s just a guess.
The Canucks in many ways resemble the pre-Iginla trade Flames, if the team had been run by people that could draft reasonably well at that point. They’ve still got the Sedins on their roster and eventually they’ll have to cash out on them, but for the time being they’ve integrated a bunch of pretty good young players (Virtanen, Jared McCann, Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Linden Vey, Sven Baertschi) that have gotten better as the season’s worn on. The Canucks probably aren’t going to be a playoff team, but they also don’t really need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater because they’ve got a pretty good young core to eventually replace their older players.
It should be a pretty good test for the Flames tonight.
WHEN LAST WE MET
The Flames and Canucks split their first two meetings this season, which happened to be both teams’ first two games of the season. In the season-opener the Canucks thumped Calgary 5-1 at the ‘Dome, and the Flames responded with a 3-2 comeback win in overtime the following Saturday at Rogers Arena.
Calgary is 126-89-46 all-time against Vancouver.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
Columbus is off tonight, but Buffalo (vs. Boston), Edmonton (vs. Montreal), Winnipeg (vs. Colorado), Toronto (vs. Ottawa) and Montreal (vs. Edmonton) are all in action, so presumably the six-way log-jam ends tonight.
SUM IT UP
The Flames need to be in desperation mode after losing to the NHL’s worst team. They need points very much, unless they want to start manufacturing Auston Matthews jerseys or something like that.