FGD #64: Buffalo Soldiers

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!

THE FLAMES

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

Johnny GaudreauSam Bennett 

Michael Frolik
Micheal FerlandSean MonahanJoe Colborne
Lance BoumaMikael BacklundGarnet Hathaway
Brandon BolligMatt StajanJosh Jooris

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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.

THE SABRES

Projected lines from Daily Faceoff!

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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.

THE NUMBERS

CALGARY BUFFALO
Wins 26 25
Power Play 15.9% 19.5%
Penalty Kill 72.8% 83.0%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 47.2% 46.6%
Faceoffs 48.3% 49.4%

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

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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.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      On the contrary, I hardly think the Sabres suck. They very much could be a team on the rise over the next few years. I love the young talent on that team, and they will add another stud this June. Bit too soon to tell, but the Sabres could be like the Hawks and Kings a few years back when they were starting their upward trend.

      As for the Flames, they are horrible, and I have to think that the 5-year-rebuild has been set back at least a year by all that Treliving didn’t do last offseason. He used a surgical scalpel last offseason when he really needed a cleaver to cut out all the deadweight.

  • brodiegio4life

    there wasn’t a single reason to start hiller tonight, not a single one. Don’t tell me it’s to “tank” because hartley was the guy saying they’re not in the position to try out new players when they were 2 points out of last. Had smid never gotten injured I can guarantee nakladal would’ve been in the press box every game cause there’s no way hartley doesn’t play the guys he “trusts” even if they’re straight garbage. hartley has to go!

  • Baalzamon

    I think the Flames should separate Monahan and Gaudreau for the rest of the season. “Monahan needs Gaudreau” isn’t a good enough reason to keep them together. That’s the kind of logic that led Toronto to believe Tyler Bozak was a first line center.

  • freethe flames

    How many of he goals given up by Hiller where above shoulder. Man is he bad. Yet BH trusts him, I have never understood this. Can’t wait for him to be gone.

  • Franko J

    Worst stretch of hockey in a long, long, time from the Flames. Major slump and there is nothing this coaching staff can do about it.

    If they weren’t before, the players are already making plans for their off season.

    The management should just start now with the exit interviews.

    Losing 10 in 11 games shows me that there is something fundamentally flawed with the system the coaching staff deploys. I truly believe Hartley will not be back next year. His decision making as a coach is suspect at best. Sorry but Hartley is looking like he is at Keenan status right now.

    Starting Hiller just shows he probably knows his days as a coach with the Flames will only be 18 more games. Dead coach a coaching.

    Not to pick just on the coaching, but the players aren’t learning from their mistakes and their focus is not at the right place where it should be. Somewhere along the way it just feels like this has lost their identity.

    I’m excited at the fact that they might have a shot at first overall, but I sure miss watching the team I cheered for last year. Win or lose, most games were fun and entertaining. This year not so much.

  • RKD

    Another loss improves our draft position, interesting 1st line wonder if it stays like that for the rest of the season. No need to start Hiller we know what he is, let’s see Ortio start some more. I’m intrigued to see Backstrom in net.