The Calgary Flames passed a big test on Wednesday, beating the San Jose Sharks in a tight divisional game. Now they face another interesting test in the form of a pair of games in a 28 hour span. The first game features the Flames in a familiar position: facing one of the National Hockey League’s worst teams, the New Jersey Devils. Once that’s over with, they have to regroup and head to Edmonton to face the Oilers. Can the Flames focus on what’s in front of them long enough to get two points against the Devils while a tremendously important Battle of Alberta clash looms on the immediate horizon?
The puck drops just after 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
After his sharp performance in a win against San Jose, Chad Johnson gets the start tonight. He’s 15-9-1 with a 2.26 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. He’s been consistently good and occasionally very good for Calgary. Presumably a Johnson start tonight means Brian Elliott starts tomorrow in Edmonton (unless Glen Gulutzan opts to double-shift Johnson on the back to backs).
After his two-point performance against the Sharks, we can now use the phrase “Flames leading scorer” in front of Mikael Backlund’s name. While the team’s big guns haven’t been all that great, Backlund (along with Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk) have been money for the Flames this season. They take on the best lines from the other team and usually out-score them.
Troy Brouwer returns to the lineup after missing eight games with a broken finger (suffered while inadvertently blocking a shot from teammate Kris Versteeg). Micheal Ferland left Wednesday’s game with a lower body injury and had Thursday’s practice off for a maintenance day. He’s out tonight, but is considered day to day.
Last night’s lines via Daily Faceoff:
The Devils played up the road in Edmonton last night, losing 3-2 in overtime to Calgary’s provincial rival. Since Cory Schneider played last night, the expectation is backup Keith Kinkaid will get the start against the Flames. He’s 4-4-2 with a 2.74 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’s pretty decent as far as inexpensive backups go, but you get the feeling that – like against the Sharks – the Flames may be dodging a bullet by avoiding the strong starter due to the back-to-back situation. (That said, Kinkaid starting isn’t guaranteed and Schneider has played both sides of their last three back-to-back sets.) The Devils have lost four in a row.
New Jersey has a ton of injuries right now, to the point where the Flames are basically facing the Albany Devils with a handful of NHL bodies. They’re without John Moore, Vernon Fiddler, Jacob Josefson, Andy Greene and Yohann Auvitu. They won’t practice before tonight’s game so it’s hard to say what tinkering coach John Hynes will do, but Luke Gazdic, Pavel Zacha and Seth Helgeson were the healthy extra bodies against Edmonton. At least one of them probably slots in tonight.
Update: Zacha is in and Josefson returns from the IR tonight.
This will be the 100th regular season meeting between these two teams. In 99 previous meetings, the Flames are 63-23-13. In two meetings last season, they split the games with the home team always winning. They’ll play again in three weeks in Newark.
This is the first Friday the 13th game the Flames have played in since exactly one year ago (January 13, 2016), where Sam Bennett scored four goals in a 6-0 win against the Florida Panthers.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Some Devils Twitter accounts to keep an eye on for tonight’s game:
SUM IT UP
Tonight’s the quiet before the storm, as the Flames play the Eastern Conference’s worst team before they head into the Battle of Alberta tomorrow evening. If they want to get two points and avoid any headaches, they need to focus on the task at hand and take care of what’s right in front of them.