(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
After losing three in a row following the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, the Calgary Flames have quietly put together a pair of really strong games. On Saturday, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Monday, they dominated the San Jose Sharks and got a point. Tonight? They face the NHL’s hottest club, the Nashville Predators.
The Flames are all-but-eliminated from the post-season, but they’re playing (a) for jobs and (b) to recover old, good habits. The team has played two of its best games of the season lately, and it’s a bit sad and frustrating considering it took 60-ish games and getting punted down to the bottom of the standings to get them going. Anyway, hopefully their strong play can continue and if they lose, they can lose with dignity.
The puck drops at 7:30pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan! It’s the late game of a national double-header, following the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the New York Islanders.
Projected lines courtesy Daily Faceoff:
Joni Ortio gets his 9th start of the season. He’s 1-6-3 with a 3.04 goals against average and .903 even-strength save percentage. He’s been quite good lately, and seems to finally have his confidence back. The team will definitely be without Karri Ramo and Ladislav Smid, who are done for the season. Jakub Nakladal slots back in after suffering an eye injury against Pittsburgh, but Deryk Engelland is out with an upper-body injury. And Dennis Wideman’s suspension verdict is expected at some time today, and he may or may not become available.
Johnny Gaudreau has zero points over his last four games and zero goals over his last five games, marking his third such cold stretch of the season. So either (a) he’s going to explode offensively, as he has tended to when he quiets down or (b) he’s finally slowing down after a break-neck sophomore season. Regardless of his recent offensive slowdown, he’s got 63 points in 65 games and sits 9th in league scoring. He’s 22.
Projected lines care of Daily Faceoff:
Pekka Rinne was in net last night for Nashville’s 4-2 win in Winnipeg, so presumably we see Carter Hutton tonight. He’s 11-7-2 with a 2.16 goals against average and .923 even-strength save percentage. The Preds are without Gabriel Bourque and 2002 Flames first round pick Eric Nystrom.
The Preds are on a 13-game point streak (9-0-4) and haven’t lost in regulation since February 9th. Their streak came at a great time, too, as they’re now comfortably in the first Western wild-card spot and are just five points back of St. Louis for a divisional spot. They’re arguably the hottest club in the league right now, and should be a really big challenge for the Flames.
WHEN LAST WE MET
This is the third and final meeting between these two teams. They’ve split their first two meetings, though Nashville’s loss was in overtime. In December, the Flames won 2-1 in overtime in Nashville via a Kris Russell OT winner. And in the final game prior to the All-Star Break, Nashville beat Calgary 2-1 in the game that got Dennis Wideman suspended.
All-time, the Flames are 30-28-6 against Nashville.
HOME ICE HERO
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THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are six points ahead of last-place Toronto and 13 points behind Minnesota for the final Western playoff spot. Their “tragic number” for playoff elimination is any combination of 9.5 Flames losses or Minnesota wins.
SUM IT UP
There are 16 games remaining, including tonight. It would be great to see more efforts like the last pair we’ve seen from this hockey club.