After dropping the first two games of their four-game eastern road-trip, the Calgary Flames attempt to salvage something out of the trip when they visit the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flames have quietly tumbled down the standings, playing reasonably well over their last few games but making just enough mistakes – either in their own end, or on the penalty kill, or just minor mistakes in coverage – to lose. Now that the team has lost a minutes-eating defender in Kris Russell and a pretty solid forward in Jiri Hudler, and the team’s #1 goalie in Karri Ramo, we may actually see them crash all the way down to the bottom of the standings.
(Edit – Sorry for the typo, Jiri!)
The puck drops at 5pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
The Flames began the season with three goalies and it was a disaster. Now, with 19 games left to go, it appears that they’re going to try it again. Joining Jonas Hiller (9-9-1, .908 even-strength save percentage) and Joni Ortio (0-6-2, .901 even-strength save percentage) is 38-year-old Niklas Backstrom, who hasn’t played a game since giving up six goals to Pittsburgh on January 13, 2015. But nothing else has really worked for the Flames in goal this season – they’re dead-last in even-strength save percentage – so they might as well try this, right? Hiller starts tonight.
Johnny Gaudreau and T.J. Brodie remain Calgary’s awesomest, most consistent players, but Garnet Hathaway has been pretty good in his first two games. He’s hitting dudes. He’s bringing energy. But anybody can be good for two games. If he can be good for a few more games, maybe he can earn himself a longer look at next year’s training camp – considering he was one of the last cuts, a “longer look” may constitute a NHL gig.
Projected lines from Daily Faceoff!
Man, for a team that added a healthy Patrick Kane and drafted Jack Eichel, the Sabres sure are disappointing. Their top netminder right now is Robin Lehner, who just returned from injury and lost to Edmonton in overtime on Tuesday. He’s 4-7-3 with a 2.29 goals against average and .926 even-strength save percentage. He’s good, but he’s gotten no goal support.
On paper, the Sabres have a Stanley Cup-winning coach and a roster full of young, interesting players. But much like the Flames, Buffalo’s great expectations never really came together and the team hasn’t quite gelled. Whether it’s injuries, inconsistency, or just plain bad luck, the Sabres haven’t quite been as hoped. But man, if only they could get it together consistently, they could be scary-good.
WHEN LAST WE MET
These two teams had a heck of a game back in mid-December. Rasmus Ristolainen had a hat-trick, but Buffalo still lost 4-3 by way of a three-point performance by Sean Monahan and a third period goal by Johnny Gaudreau.
The Flames are 37-46-19 all-time against Buffalo.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
In addition to tonight’s battle between Calgary and Buffalo, we also have Edmonton/Philadelphia, Toronto/Minnesota, Winnipeg/Islanders, Arizona/Anaheim and Vancouver/San Jose. The Flames can really help themselves out with a loss tonight, as it’s unlikely they’ll get much from their standings neighbours.
SUM IT UP
It’s a battle between the 28th-place Flames and the 26th-place Sabres! The draft lottery implications – and the Gaudreau versus Eichel battle – are the most interesting thing about this game.
It’s gonna be a long six weeks until the end of the season.