When you really think about it, the Calgary Flames’ most significant rival in recent years might be the Vancouver Canucks. Dating back to the line brawl that defined Bob Hartley’s 2013-14 club and including that 2015 first round playoff series, these two teams just do not like each other. Tonight the Flames (15-12-2) face the Canucks (14-11-4) in a game that will break the standings tie between the two clubs in the Pacific Division, but also potentially teach us a bit about how the Flames have mentally adjusted to playing in big games against key rivals.
The puck drops at 8 p.m. MT on Sportsnet 960 The Fan and CBC.
For a look from the other side, go visit our dear friends at Canucks Army.
Projected lines, courtesy of Daily Faceoff:
Gaudreau – Monahan (A) – Ferland
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Bennett – Jankowski – Hathaway
Brouwer (A) – Stajan – Lazar
Giordano (C) – D.Hamilton
Brodie – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Mike Smith starts for the Flames. He’s 12-9-1 with a 2.71 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. He’s backed up by David Rittich. The scratches are Matt Bartkowski and Freddie Hamilton. Jaromir Jagr didn’t participate in morning skate and is out once again with a lower-body injury.
In their last six games, the Flames have played poorly against Toronto and Edmonton, and pretty well against Arizona, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal. The big criticism Flames coach Glen Gulutzan has had of his team is that they don’t manage their emotions well in big games. That’s not say that they’re jumpy or they come out flat, but that they’re nervous and jumpy. The Flames are playing a Saturday night game against arguably their biggest division rival – and a team that’s tied with them in the standings. They’re going to need to get over the mental hurdle of big games, especially if they plan on being a good playoff team.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
D.Sedin (A) – H.Sedin (C) – Eriksson
Baertschi – Granlund – Boeser
Vanek – Dowd – Gagner
Gaunce – Chaput – Virtanen
Edler – Tanev
del Zotto (A) – Pouliot
Hutton – Stecher
Anders Nilsson (whoops!) starts for Vancouver. He’s 6-2-1 with a 2.68 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. He’s backed up by Jacob Markstrom. The scratches are Alex Biega, Alexander Burmistrov and Nikolai Goldobin. Nic Dowd makes his Canucks debut after being acquired from Los Angeles earlier this week.
The Canucks lost 4-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday, but they’ve generally been a lot better than basically everyone expected them to be. They’re not great, and they’re really getting hammered by injuries and inconsistent play this season, but they seem to have found balance in their lineup and they’ve been getting solid goaltending and timely goals.
Are they the most impressive team in the league talent-wise? Nope. But they work hard every game and are generally a tough out. You can beat the Canucks – they lose half their games – but you’ll have to out-work them to do it.
Flames: Daniel Pribyl (knee) and Kris Versteeg (hip) are on the injured reserve. Jaromir Jagr (lower-body) is day-to-day.
Vancouver: Derek Dorsett (neck), Erik Gudbranson (upper-body), Brandon Sutter (undisclosed) and Bo Horvat (foot) are on the injured reserve.
When Last We Met
This is the third meeting between these teams this year. The Flames won their first meeting in Vancouver by a 5-2 score, then lost to the Canucks at home by a 5-3 score. After this, they play one more time next Sunday and their season series is over.
Know Thy Enemy
These folks will be tweeting about the Canucks tonight. Try to be nice to them.
Sum It Up
It’s a big game for both teams, as both the Flames and Canucks could use some breathing room in the Pacific Division race. It’s early, but this is the type of game that we’ll probably look back on when the season is over as one that decided who made the post-season and who did not.
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