Hockey’s all about match-ups, and there are few things more fun in the game – covering it or watching it as a fan – than a really good Saturday night match-up. For a lot of reasons, I’ve always looked forward to games between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets. Maybe it’s because Calgary is experiencing traditional Winnipeg winter weather, but there’s always been an unspoken kinship between the two fanbases that goes beyond having borrowed teams from Atlanta.
This year’s Battle of Ex-Atlanta Teams has an extra little twist, as each club features a standout member of the 2016 NHL Draft. The Jets have Patrik Laine, an heir to the throne of Teemu Selanne as a pure Finnish sniper and perhaps already the best pure offensive talent in his draft year. The Flames have Matthew Tkachuk, equal parts pest and effective possession player, who coincidentally is part of the line likely tasked with shutting Laine down. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
The action kicks off just after 8 p.m. MT on CBC and Sportsnet 960 The Fan! For those who are fashion conscious, it’s a vintage jersey night.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Chad Johnson makes his 18th start of the season tonight. He’s 12-4-1 with a 1.98 goals against average and .932 save percentage. Those are basically “Kiprusoff in his prime” numbers, among the best in the NHL. He’s been a revelation and was a huge part of holding the Flames in it during Johnny Gaudreau’s absence. Speaking of Gaudreau, he’s had three multi-point games since his return and is (a) tied for the team lead in scoring and (b) riding a four-game points streak dating back to the game he was injured in against Minnesota.
Barring Kris Versteeg making a drastic recovery today, don’t expect any significant changes to the line-up. (For what it’s worth, he skated in the morning but didn’t skate with a particular line.) The Flames have won five straight, have points in six consecutive games, and are generally playing quite well. Heck, they’re doing enough things well that their sleepiness through 40 minutes against Arizona didn’t really cost them – granted, it was Arizona, so the bar was set low. They’ll need to be better than that tonight, but given that they’re back home and had an off day yesterday, they should be amped up.
Dating back to the simplification of the team’s game on November 15 (and the team riding Johnson from then on out), they’re 10-3-1 with a 20% power play and 87% penalty kill. Their wins lead the league during that span, but in a nice turn both of their special teams are in the top-third of the league also. We’ll see if they can keep it up.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Michael Hutchinson starts for the Jets. He’s coming off a loss against the Rangers, but the Jets are on the front half of a back-to-back (they play tomorrow in Edmonton) and presumably the aim is to keep Connor Hellebuyck fresh for tomorrow.
Coming off a loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday, the Jets are sub-.500 but still very much in the playoff picture in the West – a testament to how wonky this year has been in this conference. They’re also very injured, currently without Joel Armia, Shawn Matthias, Tyler Myers, Alex Burmistrov and Nicolas Petan. This means their depth is being tested right now, which makes line-matching extremely important for the Flames tonight. The Jets remain a top-heavy group with some holes in the depth of their lineup.
Fun fact: tonight is the first time that Josh Morrissey has played in Calgary as an NHLer. He’s from here and came up through the Western Hockey League, so this should be an emotionally-charged evening for that young man.
In 22 previous meetings between the Flames and the Jets/Thrashers, they have a 12-9-1 record. This is the first of three games between these teams this year – Calgary won two out of three last season – and Winnipeg’s only trip to the Saddledome this season.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Jets follows for you tonight:
SUM IT UP
It’s Winnipeg’s one trip to Calgary this year! It’s a battle between the two former Atlanta clubs! It’s a battle for points in a very tightly-packed Western Conference playoff race. All-told? It’s going to be a pretty interesting game tonight.