Roughly 24 hours after the Calgary Flames waltzed into Bell Centre and beat the
St. John’s IceCaps Montreal Canadiens, they get their second crack at an AHL team playing in an NHL arena when they face off against the Toronto Marlies Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Flames have won five games since the trade deadline and are in danger of crawling out of the NHL’s draft lottery gutter. Thankfully for them, the Leafs have won four games since the deadline despite playing a roster full of youngsters, also-rans, and seemingly people they picked up from the bus station around the corner from the Air Canada Center.
Can the Flames beat these “Maple Leafs”? Can they maintain their standing among the NHL’s worst and most mediocre? Or can the Flames instead continue to play like a halfway-decent NHL club, like they have since the trade deadline?
Find out tonight! The puck drops at 5:30pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
For a view from the other side, check out the preview from those goobers fine people at The Leafs Nation!
Projected lines from Daily Faceoff:
Jonas Hiller starts for the Flames. He’s 9-10-1 with a 3.41 goals against average and .906 even-strength save percentage. He’s been decent for the Flames this season, but he’s definitely been the weakest of Calgary’s three “regular” goalies. No other changes are expected for the road team, if only because they don’t have any extra human bodies on their roster that can dress. They’ll be without Karri Ramo, Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland, with Engelland reportedly still with his family (as he just had another child).
The Flames were full marks against a very bad Montreal team last night. They were disciplined and opportunistic and really didn’t let up until their had a four-goal lead mid-way through the third period. If the Flames can bring another solid 45-50 minutes of ice hockey tonight, they should be able to win again tonight.
THE MAPLE LEAFS
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Turns out Jonathan Bernier starts for the Leafs tonight rather than Garrett Sparks. He’s 9-19-3 with a 2.92 goals against average and .908 even-strength save percentage. In his career, Bernier is fairly decent against Calgary but he’s the Leafs worst goalie right now. My only guess is that human genius coach Mike Babcock is rotating goalies to keep them fresh, or is worried about Toronto winning too often. Toronto is also without Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsyk and Stephane Robidas.
The Leafs are a weird group right now, cobbled together from the best and brightest of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the vestiges of other NHL clubs. They’ve been playing loose of late, much like the Flames, because they have seemingly embraced everything good and fun about being a 30th-place team. They are not a “good” hockey club, but they do play with a lot of energy and they have a handful of really fun players to watch such as William Nylander and Frederik “The Goat” Gauthier.
WHEN LAST WE MET
This is the second of two meetings between Calgary and Toronto this season. The Flames beat them back in February, in the game notable for the absences of Lance Bouma, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. The Leafs made life interesting, though, and the Flames had to hold on to win 4-3 against a very short-handed Leafs squad.
All-time, the Flames are 61-55-13 against Toronto.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are seven points up on Toronto for last-place – depending on tonight’s results they could be five points up or nine points up – and 12 points behind Colorado for the last playoff spot. Their elimination number is 4.5; any combination of 4.5 Flames losses or Colorado wins mathematically eliminates them from the post-season.
SUM IT UP
It’s another winnable game for the Flames this month. Shockingly – and in stark contrast with the prior five months of hockey they’ve played – the Flames have actually been strong in winnable games in March. Can they actually win back-to-back winnable games against glorified AHL opposition?
But the Leafs might actually make them work for it tonight.