FGD #58: The Rubicon

After tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, the Calgary Flames will have 24 games remaining on their 2015-16 regular season calendar. As the day begins today, the Flames are 11 points behind Colorado for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

What that means is that over the final 25 games (beginning tonight), the Flames need to capture 10 (or more) points than Nashville does – and hope that nobody else in-between does better – to make the playoffs. To say it’s a tall order would be an understatement. Depending on your preference of models, they have between a 3% and 7% chance of making it.

If they can’t beat the Los Angeles Kings this season, there’s really no point in killing themselves to qualify for the playoffs. If the Flames eke into a wild-card spot, they’ll likely face Chicago or Los Angeles. If they have no hope of winning a playoff round, moving heaven and earth to make it is utterly futile. Tonight’s likely their point of no return, their make or break game.

The puck drops at 8:30pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

THE FLAMES

The Flames don’t skate until 12:30 in Los Angeles, so here’s last game’s lines for a reference:

Johnny GaudreauSean MonahanJiri Hudler
Joe ColborneMikael BacklundMichael Frolik
Brandon BolligSam BennettJosh Jooris
Lance BoumaMatt StajanDavid Jones

Mark GiordanoT.J. Brodie 

Deryk EngellandDougie Hamilton
Tyler Wotherspoon 

Jakub Nakladal

Kris Russell isn’t expected to play and with the team at 22 players after trading Markus Granlund yesterday, a recall from Stockton is expected at some point in the near-future, but not necessarily for tonight’s game. (Also: top nine winger Brandon Bollig.)

It’s a coin-toss in terms of who’s start tonight, as the team was off yesterday and provided zero indications. Jonas Hiller is 17-18-1 with a 2.63 goals against average and .908 even-strength save percentage in 37 starts. Joni Ortio is 0-3-1 with a 4.13 goals against average and .878 even-strength save percentage in 2 starts. Neither has been amazing this season, and Ortio’s seemingly scared the coaching staff enough that he hasn’t started despite being fresh (and despite Hiller getting shelled).

UPDATE:

The Flames have gone 9-11-1 since they last faced the Kings, and their loss on New Year’s Eve seemed to expose a lot of holes in their game and seemed to shatter a lot of their confidence. Their power-play is going a lot better since then – chugging along at 20.8% – but their penalty kill has been horrendous (72.1%). This is a long way of saying that the Kings seem to have everybody’s number this year, and the Flames will have their hands full at even-strength. If they get in penalty trouble, or fail to take advantage of any power-play chances they get, they will be sunk.

THE KINGS

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

Milan LucicAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Dwight KingJeff Carter 

Tyler Toffoli
Tanner PearsonVincent LecavalierTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordNick ShoreAndy Andreoff

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 8.58.52 PM

Jonathan Quick will get the start for the Kings. He’s 29-15-3 with a 2.19 goals against average and .931 even-strength save percentage in 47 starts.

The Kings are back at home after a seven-game, 12-day trip that saw them go 3-3-1. Granted, they never got thumped on the trip, but they probably wish they could’ve done better. That said, they’re still in first place…but only by two points. Anaheim’s been great lately and the Kings have frittered away most of their lead.

The Kings are without Marian Gaborik and Matt Greene. But they’re still a damn good hockey club and their roster is pretty terrifying. And the Kings are going to be motivated after that road trip, and having Anaheim on their heels. But Anze Kopitar is reportedly back for tonight, which will give the Kings a nice boost as well.

Tonight could be messy for the Flames.

THE NUMBERS

CALGARY LOS ANGELES
Wins 26 34
Power Play 15.6% 22.2%
Penalty Kill 73.2% 82.2%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 47.0% 56.7%
Faceoffs 48.4% 50.0%

WHEN LAST WE MET

The Flames have faced the Kings once this season, losing 4-1 at home in a game they never really seemed to be in (way back on December 31).

In 227 previous encounters, the Flames have a commanding 116-86-25 record against the Los Angeles Kings.

SUM IT UP

The Flames need points. The Kings need points. One of those teams is much better at even-strength. And the power-play. And the penalty-kill. And has a Vezina-caliber goalie. It could be a really long, ugly night for the Flames.