(Brad Rempel / USA Today Sports)
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So far in 2016-17 the Calgary Flames have been firmly established as a streaky team. They had a really nice string of play, including three solid wins, from October 24 to 28. Unfortunately beginning with October 30’s loss at home against Washington, they’ve hit the skids: they’re 1-6-0 since then and have looked occasionally decent but consistently inconsistent.
Tonight, they jaunt off to the Twin Cities to face the Minnesota Wild in a game that’s important for one major reason: the Flames lead the National Hockey League in regulation losses (and are tied with the New York Islanders in losses of any kind). The Flames need wins. Badly. Moreover, they need a consistent 60 minute effort, something that’s been in short supply this year.
The action kicks off just after 6 p.m. MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Brian Elliott was working in the starter’s net over the past two days of practice. But given that he has a 3-8-0 record and is 37th out of 45 goalies with 5 or more appearance in even strength save percentage – meaning he’s not having a great year so far – it seems like the Flames are going with Chad Johnson tonight. Given that tonight’s contest is the first game in a back-to-back stretch (with travel), I’d expect Elliott to play against the Coyotes tomorrow night.
The Flames are without Ladislav Smid, Kris Versteeg and Lance Bouma. They completely shuffled their lines over the last couple of days, aside from the top line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik – Tkachuk returns tonight after missing two games with stitches in his wrist. Troy Brouwer played on the top line in the third against the Rangers and does so here. Matt Stajan’s back at center after playing the left side of Linden Vey over the last two games. And the defensive pairings get shuffled around again, as Kulak and Engelland are reunited and Brodie and Giordano each find new partners. It appears that Vey and Hunter Shinkaruk are healthy scratches, along with Jyrki Jokipakka. Also: Postmedia’s Kristen Odland tweeted that Sam Bennett will play the wing tonight, and Derek Wills tweeted that he’ll play with Stajan and Alex Chiasson. So…a lot of change is happening all at once in terms of lines and pairings.
Calgary finally had a good special teams game on Saturday, scoring a power play goal and not giving up any. They’ll need to dramatically extend that performance if they hope to get back in the win column.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
(4C is Tyler Graovac; 4R is Zach Mitchell)
Arguably the hottest goalie in the NHL, Devan Dubnyk, starts tonight. He’s 6-4-1 with a 1.65 goals against average and .947 save percentage this season. That’s right: he’s stopped 94.7% of shots against. That’s crazy.
It sounds like Zach Parise returns tonight, which means the Wild are only without Zac Delpe and are largely healthy. The Wild aren’t a perfect team, but their goaltending has been good enough to keep them in basically every game they’ve played and that’s been enough so far. Aside from goaltending, they’re slightly better than the Flames in basically every performance metric thus far. The Flames will need to be sharp if they want to grind out two points this evening.
This is the 84th regular season game between the Flames and Wild. The Flames have a 43-26-14 record all-time. The two teams met three times last season, with Minnesota taking two of three games from Calgary. The Wild beat the Flames 5-3 and 6-2, but lost 2-1 in the regular season finale in Niklas Backstrom’s final NHL game off a Patrick Sieloff game-winning goal. (It was a weird game.) The two clubs will meet three times again this season.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Wild follows for tonight:
SUM IT UP
The Flames are the losingest group in the NHL. They desperately need a win. Or momentum of any way, shape or form. Playing against a Wild club with good goaltending and decent everything else, they’ll be in tough to grind out two points this evening.