FGD 34: Back to basics…and the desert (7pm MT, SN Flames)


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(Matt Kartozian / USA Today Sports)

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It’s probably not unfair to paint the 2016-17 Calgary Flames as a streaky hockey club. After a rough start that saw them in the league’s basement after the first month of games, they managed to put together a great stretch of hockey – without Johnny Gaudreau, mind you – and claw their way back into the playoff pack. They’ve lost a pair this week, though, and probably wish to throw the brakes on that before this bump in the road becomes a major skid.

Tonight’s the first game of a mini road trip: they’re in Arizona tonight and San Jose tomorrow, facing one of the NHL’s worst clubs and one of its best. If there ever was a schedule reprieve that allows a team to work their kinks out, tonight is it. It also means that the expectations have been raised. If the Flames hope to stay with the pack, they’ll need a clean sweep in both of these games.

The action kicks off at 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!

THE FLAMES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

Matthew TkachukMikael BacklundMichael Frolik
Johnny GaudreauSam BennettAlex Chiasson
Kris VersteegSean MonahanTroy Brouwer
Micheal FerlandMatt StajanGarnet Hathaway

Mark GiordanoDougie Hamilton
T.J. BrodieDennis Wideman
Jyrki JokipakkaDeryk Engelland

The Flames are playing back-to-back games, so the thought is they probably split starts between Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott. I’d expect Elliott (3-9-1, 3.31 goals against average, .886 save percentage) to start tonight – it’s the easier game and gives him a chance to get some swagger back – and Johnson to play against San Jose in front of a more tired team.

After sending Tyler Wotherspoon down to the AHL’s Stockton Heat on Saturday, the club brought him back up today. He’ll be an extra body. Garnet Hathaway is expected to slot in on the fourth line in place of his more expensive counterpart, Lance Bouma.

Despite some wonky even strength play, the Flames have been quite good with special teams. They’re riding a streak of seven consecutive games with power play goals and while they have allowed goals on their penalty kill in three straight games, head coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t seem overly phased by those results – one goal was a great tip-in by Brian Boyle against Tampa and another was a wonky double-deflection against the Blue Jackets. Structurally, they’ve been consistently better than they were early in the year.

Keep an eye on Sean Monahan (9 games) and Johnny Gaudreau (7 games), both riding lengthy points streaks.

THE COYOTES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

Lawson CrouseMartin HanzalRadim Vrbata
Tobias RiederJordan MartinookShane Doan
Jamie McGinnPeter HollandAnthony Duclair
Josh JoorisChristian DvorakRyan White

Oliver Ekman-LarssonConnor Murphy
Alex GoligoskiMichael Stone
Jakob ChychrunLuke Schenn

Mike Smith took the loss on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, so presumably that means Louie Domingue (4-9-1, 3.37 goals against average, .898 save percentage) gets the start tonight. Both goalies are decent, but have struggled at times this season.

The Coyotes are currently without Dave Bolland, Brad Richardson and Max Domi, the most recent of which was injured in a tussle with Flames winger Garnet Hathaway in their last meeting. They’re not amazingly deep and they’ve been forced to play a low-event, low-scoring style of play. When they’ve been successful, they’ve managed to grind out some wins. But they haven’t been able to do that consistently, which is why they’re close to the NHL’s basement in terms of wins and points.

THE NUMBERS

FLAMES COYOTES
Wins 16 11
Points
(Pct.)
34
(.515)
27
(.435)
Power Play 17.0% 14.6%
Penalty Kill 78.5% 80.4%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 48.8% 44.3%

HISTORY LESSON

This is the 190th game between the Flames franchise and the Coyotes/Jets 1.0 franchise. The Flames are 90-72-27 all-time. This is the third of five meetings between the clubs this season; the Flames are 2-0 already against the Coyotes with a pair of 2-1 overtime victories.

KNOW THY ENEMY

Some Coyotes follows for tonight:

PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS

The Flames enter the day ninth in the Western Conference in points percentage, which puts them just a smidge behind Nashville for the second wild-card spot. A win bumps them to .529, while a loss drops them to exactly .500 and pushes them down towards the big clump of non-playoff teams. Nashville is also in action tonight, playing the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers.

SUM IT UP

A win gets the Flames some momentum as the head towards their last two games before Christmas against two more divisional opponents. A regulation loss drops them back to .500 and largely dispenses of whatever momentum (and breathing room) the Flames gave themselves with their great past few weeks.