(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
After a tumultuous road trip that saw them drop three of four games as they trekked across the American northeast – and saw them divest themselves of the services of Jiri Hudler, Kris Russell and David Jones – the Calgary Flames are finally back home, sweet home tonight. They face another stiff test in a playoff-bound divisional rival, the San Jose Sharks.
Will the Flames prove themselves listless and sloppy, the way they played throughout most of their road trip? Or will they rather reflect that Saturday’s impressive triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins was an indication of this team’s true quality and nature? It’s too late for wins to have post-season implications, but they can certainly work to build a foundation for future success.
The puck drops at 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Fresh off his first NHL win in 14 months, Joni Ortio makes the start. He’s 1-6-2 with a 3.17 goals against average and .903 even-strength save percentage. Jonas Hiller has now settled in with a good book on the Flames bench – I think he’s re-reading the Harry Potter series – while Niklas Backstrom is skating with the team and will presumably eventually be considered “active.” The Flames have zero healthy extra skaters, so if Jakub Nakladal’s eye injury means he can’t go tonight, we’ll see an emergency recall. Karri Ramo (knee) and Ladislav Smid (upper-body) are likely done for the season.
The team’s lines are…a thing. Somehow the Flames are a team with a defined fourth line and basically three second/third lines. I’ve got no clue what the idea is, beyond trying out new things – other than keeping Monahan and Gaudreau together for whatever reason.
Once again, the spotlight will need to be on Calgary’s special teams. They need to win that battle to have any shot of winning this game.
Projected line via Daily Faceoff:
After James Reimer lost in Vancouver, it seems rather likely that top Sharks netminder Martin Jones will start this evening. A former Calgary Hitmen – in case Sportsnet forgets to mention it tonight – he’s 32-17-4 with a 2.32 goals against average and .925 even-strength save percentage. I’ll freely admit that I was wrong about Jones; I didn’t think he could make the leap from being a rock-solid #2 to being an NHL starter without growing pains, but he’s been quite good for San Jose and is one of the main reasons they’re en route to the post-season.
The Sharks are a well-constructed team, with a nice mix of skill, size, grit, experience and youth. They are bolstered by the ageless Joe Thornton and the human embodiment of Chewbecca in the burly Brent Burns. And they have enough depth on the AHL team that they haven’t really missed a step when injuries have struck this season,
Now, if only they can translate regular season success into playoff success, something that has eluded them for…well, forever.
WHEN LAST WE MET
So far this season, Calgary and San Jose have met four times. Each team has won twice, once each at home and on the road. The Flames have allowed five goals to the Sharks in three of the four games, though. The Flames lost 5-2 in San Jose in late November, won 4-2 at home in early December, lost a squeaker 5-4 at home in early January and then won a wild 6-5 shootout in San Jose in mid-February.
All-time, the Flames are 58-41-12 head-to-head against the Sharks.
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THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are six points up on 30th-place Toronto and are 14 points back of the Minnesota Wild for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The “tragic number” to eliminate the Flames from the playoffs is any combination of 10 Calgary losses and Minnesota wins.
SUM IT UP
The Flames are playing out the string, and hopefully play well enough to reinforce good habits. Whether or not they win games from this point onwards is largely irrelevant.