FGD #73: Journey to The Center of the Universe

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!

THE FLAMES

Projected lines from Daily Faceoff:

Johnny GaudreauSean MonahanJosh Jooris
Lance BoumaMikael BacklundMichael Frolik
Micheal FerlandSam BennettJoe Colborne
Brandon BolligMatt StajanGarnet Hathaway
Mark GiordanoDougie Hamilton
Jyrki JokipakkaT.J. Brodie
Tyler WotherspoonJakub Nakladal

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:

Milan MichalekNazem KadriMichael Grabner
Zach HymanWilliam NylanderP.A. Parenteau
Colin GreeningFrederik Gauthier(Frederik Gauthier)

Josh Leivo
Brooks LaichBen SmithConnor Brown
(Connor Brown
)

Morgan RiellyMartin Marincin
Jake GardinerConnor Carrick
Rinat ValievFrank Corrado

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.

THE NUMBERS

CALGARY TORONTO
Wins 31 25
Power Play 16.0% 14.5%
Penalty Kill 74.9% 81.0%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 47.6% 50.9%
Faceoffs 48.7% 51.1%

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

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 11.01.55 PM

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?

Yeah, probably.

But the Leafs might actually make them work for it tonight.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I hope so too.

      The narrative on TSN is “Is Kadri going to seek retribution against Giordano tonight?”

      Disgracefull. Kadri gets blown up with a perfectly legal hit while his head is down looking at the puck. He plays the idiot with his throat slashing gesture, and gets suspended. Even Babcock said it was a good hit. Now TSN has to make it look like Kadri has a score to settle.

      I know TSN reaches in all possible directions for a story about the Leafs, but that’s a bunch’a’bullsh*t.

      • KACaribou

        Better yet, Kadri gets his head down on Ferly Street and Train 79 comes chugging in on schedule… and rather than throat slashing safely on the bench Kadri drops the gloves thinking he was checked by Johnny Hockey.

  • freethe flames

    So here’s a question? Is it more important for the Flames to see Grant again this season or for the Heat to make the playoffs? Props for Grant. Trashes for the Heat.

  • everton fc

    Interesting 2nd and 3rd lines. I like them both, but Bouma better produce w/these two linemates.

    Colborne may eclipse 40 points, if he continues to get assists and the odd goal. Not bad for the local boy most wanted moved at the deadline.

    • freethe flames

      I always thought that a Bouma/Backs/Frolik line might be a solid line. Bouma and Backs had great chemistry last year (Bouma had a career season). Frolik and Backs have great chemistry this year. Give it time.

      Is Colborne a fit with Bennett? I’m really not sure but I have no problem with giving him and Ferland a chance. The big problem is that 2/3 of the 4th line are not good enough. Bollig is not good enough and Stajan is falling behind (I like Stajan) but the truth is the truth.

    • KACaribou

      Ari showed us all that our top line should be:

      Colborne, Backlund, Ferland 52.63 – 51.32% – 3.42GF60 – 1.14GA60

      The numbers show it to be true, therefore it is true.

      A small sample size never alters numbers right? Wink, wink.

      • Cfan in Vic

        Ari is always pretty good with throwing in the small sample caveat. Did she ever suggest that line-up, or are you just grabbing numbers to show that she shouldn’t be using them?

        • KACaribou

          She wasn’t suggesting this, she was trying to show that Backs and Frolik with anyone was the way to go. Unfortunately, if GF/GA is ultimately the only thing that matters then Colborne/Backs/Ferly is clearly the best line for the Flames this year.

          I thought I would sarcastically show how numbers alone can distort reality given a small sample size, which is usually the case here.

          • wot96

            Ari provided the small sample size caveat, which most of these writers issue whenever there is a small sample size. So, not sure why Ari should be criticized for that.

            Thing is, isn’t this a good game to go back to that line? I know, I know, we don’t know the quality of competition either so maybe they just kicked the doors in on the worst fourth lines in the league.

            But this is the time to experiment. Go back to that line. Play the crap out of them and maybe throw Sam up on RW with Johnny or Mony? Or try something else – I don’t care.

            The point is, it’s the Leafs and if you can’t take the time to experiment on them, when you don’t much care about the results one way or another, then when can you take the time? With Chicago? With Anaheim? I think not.

  • everton fc

    Also, Shinkaruk w/8 points, 4 goals, 4 assists, in 10 games in Stockton. We may have fleeced the Nucks. Time will tell. But he seems to be fitting in, albeit at -6 for those same 10 games…

  • Jake the Snail

    HOW DOES GROUP 6 FREE AGENCY WORK?

    A Group 6 unrestricted free agent is a player with an expiring contract who meets the following criteria:

    Aged 25 or older (as of June 30 prior to the opening of the free agency period).

    Has completed three or more professional seasons under NHL contract. A professional season is defined as 11 or more regular season or playoff games at ages 18 or 19 and one or more regular season and/or playoff game at ages 20 and older.

    Has played in fewer than 80 games as a skater or 28 games as a goaltender (minimum of 30 minutes).

    • MontanaMan

      Coming into the discussion late and apologies if it’s been discussed but why are the Flames playing Hiller? Ortio isn’t hurt; can’t be tired – so why isn’t he playing? If I was coaching the Flames, Hiller would never see the ice again – including practice. Rant over.

      • Scarface

        Hiller, poor guy, fell off a cliff last year in the playoffs. Was it game 6 against the Canucks when he was yanked or against the first couple against Ducks? Hard to say, who knows really?

        Maybe he winds up in Switzerland or another European league and rebounds. You kinda wish that he does. Maybe he gets another shot in this league? Doubt it though.

  • MontanaMan

    One other note: Nakladal (has been excellent), Joki and Wotherspoon are fine in my books to share the 5/6 slots on defence. Many have one of them in the 7 slot but I’m more than comfortable with the three of them taking up the final two (or potentially for Nak the #4) spots on defence. Cheap yet competent options when budget counts.

    • piscera.infada

      I like Jokipakka’s game a lot, but to be frank, I think his game still translates perfectly to the bottom pairing–where he could be a very solid, cost-effective contributor. I wouldn’t start penciling him in to the top-4 because I think either Kylington or Andersson will have something to say about that before long.

      • MattyFranchise

        While waiting for Kylington and Andersson to develop I’d prefer to play Nakladal in the 4th spot.

        Not having Wideman next season would solve so many problems but I don’t see him going anywhere.

  • FireScorpion

    So what was the reasoning to okay Hiller tonight? Hartley on one hand says he wants to establish winning and all that jazz for next season..so why would you play Hiller than who has had an atrocious campaign. Not to mention Backs goes again next game against Minn so now you’re having Ortio sit for over a week for no good reason.

    Sorry but I can’t get behind a Coach who likes to play head games with his goaltenders. That’s twice this season. They haven’t learned from their early mistakes this season. Hartley..oh right but he won the Jack Adams so bow down before the one you serve

  • RKD

    Plenty of games for us to still lose and improve our draft standings. We face Anaheim once and LA two more times plus throw in Chicago, that would be 4 losses right there. 2 against Minny on the road as well.