(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
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The last time the Calgary Flames met the Arizona Coyotes, they were in a much different place as a team. A game removed from losing Johnny Gaudreau to injury, the Flames were grasping for an identity and radically simplified their game as a result. Now, roughly three weeks later, the Flames are one of the hottest teams in hockey and over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
The Coyotes? They’re in roughly the same spot they were before: puttering around near the bottom of the Western Conference (and NHL standings). Having won four in a row, tonight could be an opportunity for the Flames to pad their record before a tough-looking match-up on Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Chad Johnson starts tonight. He’s 11-4-1 with a 2.04 goals against average and .931 save percentage. It’ll be his 17th start of the season. He’s arguably the hottest goalie in the NHL right now, and unarguably the primary reason the Flames are where they are right now.
Kris Versteeg was in a lot of pain on Tuesday and Lance Bouma is medically cleared, so there’s a big, big chance that Bouma is activated and slots into the line-up tonight (for the first time since being injured in early November). Versteeg left morning skate early, so it sounds like he’s out for tonight, and the lines above are what Derek Wills tweeted based on line rushes.
If the Flames keep playing the way they’ve been playing, they may be in good shape. They don’t give up a ton of gold-star scoring chances and have really improved in limiting second chances. Their special teams have really improved. They’ve scored power play goals in three consecutive games – getting Gaudreau back really helps their PP – and their penalty killing is much, much better than it used to be.
They’re still a work in progress, but the Flames are trending in the right direction.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
The Coyotes are back home after losing 4-0 to Chicago on Tuesday. Despite the fact that he got lit up for four goals on Tuesday, it sounds like the Flames will see Mike Smith tonight. He’s 4-3-3 with a 2.77 goals against average and .924 save percentage. He’s Arizona’s better goalie right now.
Arizona is a team in transition. They have a lot of really interesting young players; guys like Chychrun, Crouse, Gaudet, Perlini, Domi… There’s a really interesting group here. Unfortunately, the team also has a bunch of guys that are just hanging around their roster, and the young group hasn’t developed enough yet to really make a difference. (Heck, they already sent Dylan Strome back to junior so as to not waste crucial development time by having him hang out on a bad team.)
In 188 previous meetings with Arizona all-time, the Flames are 89-72-27. The Flames beat Arizona 2-1 in overtime back on November 16. These teams play three times in December, including tonight, then once more in February.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Coyotes follows for tonight:
SUM IT UP
The Flames can keep crawling back into the playoff picture with another strong effort – and strong result – tonight in the desert.