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Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

FGD 73: An uphill battle in DC (5pm MT, SN West)

The Calgary Flames received some help from the out-of-town scoreboard last night, as the Edmonton Oilers helpfully beat the Los Angeles Kings to nudge the Flames ever-so-closer to clinching a playoff spot. That’s great, because the Flames will be shorthanded against the powerhouse Washington Capitals tonight in D.C.

The Flames are one of the hottest teams in the entire National Hockey League right now. The Capitals are contending for the Presidents’ Trophy. It should be a huge measuring stick game for a Flames club that will be missing a pair of key regulars.

The puck drops just after 5 p.m. MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!

THE FLAMES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

Remember back when Brian Elliott was a sub-.500 goaltender? Well, he’s not anymore. Elliott gets the start, looking to extend his franchise record-tying winning streak to 12 games. He’s 23-13-3 with a 2.46 goals against average and .911 save percentage. He’s been superb for the last month or so.

The Flames are making some changes to their lineup, and neither is by choice. Micheal Ferland (possibly the mump) has been joined by Matthew Tkachuk (suspension) on the sidelines, dropping the number of Ms in the lineup to critically low levels. Tkachuk’s absence means that Freddie Hamilton slots in tonight, as well as the Flames have summoned Garnet Hathaway to join them in Washington as an “in case of flu, break glass” back-up plan. Sam Bennett jumps up to join two-thirds of the 3M Line in their attempt to shut down Alex Ovechkin.

Let’s be blunt here: if the Flames were fully staffed, this would be a really tough game because of how bloody stacked the Capitals are. The key here for the Flames will be to try to keep things close. This may not be a winnable game, which means expectations are exceptionally low – and thus easy to exceed.

THE CAPITALS

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

Braden Holtby starts for Washington. He’s 36-11-6 with a 2.05 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He’s a strong Vezina Trophy candidate right now.

The Capitals are a really good hockey club. They’re stacked. Their top six is insanely strong. Their defense is deep enough that Kevin Shattenkirk is on their third pairing. The Capitals are playing to win right now, and the Flames may be able to take advantage of the Caps focusing on the playoffs a tad early. That said, the Capitals are playing at home and control match-ups via last change. It’s going to be tough for the Flames to combat that.

If you want to evaluate Glen Gulutzan as a coach, tonight may be a great game to do so because his bench management tactics are going to be on full display as he tries to get Johnny Gaudreau some time and space and use Mikael Backlund to isolate that top line.

THE NUMBERS

FLAMES CAPITALS
Wins 41 46
Points
(Pct.)
86
(.597)
100
(.704)
Power Play 19.6% 21.4%
Penalty Kill 81.3% 83.7%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 50.7% 52.7%

HISTORY LESSON

All-time, the Flames are 43-35-14 against Washington. This is the second meeting between these clubs this year. The Capitals beat the Flames 3-1 back in late October. It was not a close game.

KNOW THY ENEMY

Recommended Capitals follows for tonight:

MAGIC NUMBERS

The Flames enter tonight’s game with a magic number of 5. Any combination of 5 Flames wins or Kings losses clinches a playoff spot for the Flames.

SUM IT UP

The Flames begin their final eastern trip of the year with a stiff test. They’re facing one of the league’s best teams and they’ll be missing two regulars from their top nine. Expectations aren’t high for this one.