(Russell LaBounty / USA Today Sports)
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As the curtain rises on today’s National Hockey League schedule, there is one indisputable fact: the Calgary Flames have more losses than any other outfit in the league. Just two games into their six game mega-trip, the Flames have played one good game (in Detroit) and one game where they struggled (in Buffalo). Tonight they face a stiff test against John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the most offensively potent teams in the NHL.
It’s another early one, with a 5 p.m. MT start on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Chad Johnson returns to the net after being absent against Buffalo, likely due to the back-to-back situation. Johnson is 5-3-1 with a .926 even strength save percentage, which places him in the top third of the league in terms of goalie performance.
With Linden Vey back in the American Hockey League, that paves the way for Kris Versteeg’s return to action tonight. He’s been absent for nine games with a groin injury. The Flames remain without Ladislav Smid, Lance Bouma and Johnny Gaudreau, but getting Versteeg back will definitely help with their depth. Versteeg’s return bumps Hunter Shinkaruk to the press box and also results in some line shuffling for the middle-six: Bennett moves to Stajan’s line and Versteeg slots in with Monahan’s group. Brett Kulak also returns to the line-up, taking the place of Jyrki Jokipakka.
The key to victory tonight for the Flames may simply be keeping the game at even strength. Their penalty kill was victimized three times in 91 seconds on Monday, while their power play failed to generate much more than disappointment. If the Flames can keep things simple, roll four lines and create momentum at even strength they should have a chance. But considering how dangerous Columbus’ power play is, they need to stay out of the box.
The other key? Sean Monahan figuring his game out. He’s been an anchor on his line for the last few games, which has really thrown a wrench into things for the Flames when the other three lines are generating chances and momentum only to have it dissipated by Monahan’s trio.
Lines courtesy Daily Faceoff:
It sounds like Sergei Bobrovsky starts tonight. He’s 10-4-1 with a .931 save percentage this season. Of the 37 goalies with 8 or more appearances this season, he’s 8th in even strength save percentage.
The Jackets are healthy and they’re a very offensively potent team. Moreso than almost any other NHL squad, they can absolutely pile on the goals when they get up. They’ve up up 10 goals and 8 goals this month in single games, while the Flames have (at times) struggled to score that many in entire weeks. The key to their potency is their power play, which has put up 14 goals thus far this season – more than double Calgary’s output.
I’ll reiterate: stay out of the box against Columbus.
In 53 previous games against Columbus, the Flames are 24-22-7. Like they did with a lot of teams, the Flames split the season series last year with the Jackets (with the road team always winning). They’ll play again in mid-December at the Saddledome.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Jackets follows for y’all tonight:
SUM IT UP
The Flames are going to be in tough against the Jackets but if they can play a smart, restrained game at even strength and stay out of the penalty box, they may have a chance to grind out a couple points. It won’t be easy though, and tonight will be a big test of the Flames’ ability to roll with the punches during the season.