The Western Conference is not great this season. For whatever reason, almost all of the Western teams stumbled out of the starting blocks and, as a result, the expectation is that the bar to get into the playoffs out West is much, much lower than it will be in the Eastern Conference. For the Calgary Flames, that’s great news.
The Flames play their 28th game of the regular season tonight when they host the Anaheim Ducks. It’s a change for revenge against a team that beat them last month. It’s a chance to get to the NHL’s sorta fake .500 mark. It’s a chance to close out a homestand with three wins in three outings before they head out onto the road for a couple of games. Also, Johnny Gaudreau returns tonight after missing the previous 10 games due to a broken finger he suffered back on November 15.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m MT on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines from warm-up via Daily Faceoff:
Chad Johnson starts for the 15th time this season. He’s 9-4-1 with a .930 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average. He’s been very, very good for the Flames when he’s been in net this season. The Flames get a boost with Gaudreau’s return to action tonight after missing just shy of three weeks of games with a broken finger. It’s hard to say where he fits in, though – especially considering the Flames had an optional morning skate. I would wager that Garnet Hathaway gets scratched and Micheal Ferland switches sides, but that’s a guess. I’d imagine they don’t want to mess with the Backlund line, nor would they want to split up the Versteeg/Monahan pairing given how productive they’ve been. In other words? We’ll tweet out lines from warm-up, because that’s likely the earliest we’ll know anything definitive.
Here’s the current playoff probabilities in the West.
Western Conference Playoff Probabilities : 2016-12-04 pic.twitter.com/mBhKzNIqpE
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) December 4, 2016
Right now, the team being chased is Anaheim. For the Flames to make some hay – and make up some ground – they need to beat their divisional (and conference) opponents from here on out. And it’d be helpful if they could do it in regulation.
The Ducks beat the Flames in their last meeting, but it was a tired, injured-ravaged Flames club playing in the second half of a back-to-back. Despite all that, it was just a pair of power play goals and a defensive lapse in their own end that resulted in the loss. If they can play a tight-checking game and avoid penalties, they may have a shot here. Historically, the Flames have fared well against the Ducks in the Saddledome – for what little that’s worth.
Lines from last night via Daily Faceoff:
The Ducks played in Edmonton last night, losing 3-2 in overtime in the beautiful confines of Rogers Place. John Gibson started there, so presumably Jonathan Bernier starts tonight against the Flames. He’s 4-1-1 in nine appearances, primarily in relief, but he was the goalie of record in Anaheim’s win over Calgary last month. He’s got great numbers, albeit in limited use. The extra healthy bodies for Anaheim last night were Chris Wagner and Korbinian Holzer, so potentially they rotate in.
Anaheim’s depth is being tested right now, as they’re without Clayton Stoner, Simon Despres, Joseph Cramarossa and Nate Thompson. They still have some very good top lines and pairings, but they’re facing some challenges – particularly on the road – of not being able to roll lines without subjecting their lesser lights to tough match-ups.
This is the 98th meeting between these two clubs. The Flames hold a 37-45-15 record against the Ducks. They lost their first meeting with Anaheim 4-1 last month, setting an NHL record for futility in a single building. They’ll play three more times after tonight.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Ducks follows for tonight’s contest:
SUM IT UP
The key to victory for the Flames tonight? Just ignore the fact that Gaudreau is back and play the same style of game they’ve been playing. They shouldn’t try to run and gun with the Ducks. They need to play a measured, tight-checking defensive game and wait for Anaheim to make mistakes.
Nevertheless, the return of their best player should give the team a nice boost of energy as they finish off this stretch of home games.