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FGD 47: Sabre rattling (7pm MT, SN West)

The Calgary Flames (25-16-5) were a bit sloppy and disjointed on Saturday afternoon as they returned from their bye week. They managed to salvage a point out of things, by way of another strong Mike Smith outing. The Flames host the Buffalo Sabres (11-26-9) this evening, a team that (all due respect) has spent much of the 2017-18 season looking sloppy and disjointed. Regardless of how rough the Sabres’ season has been thus far, they represent a crucial two points for the Flames in an extremely tight Western Conference playoff race.

The puck drops just after 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

The Flames

Projected lines, courtesy of Daily Faceoff:

Gaudreau – Monahan (A) – Ferland
Tkachuk – Backlund – Brouwer (A)
Bennett – Jankowski – Hathaway
Hrivik – Stajan – Lazar

Giordano (C) – D.Hamilton
Brodie – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone

Mike Smith makes his 40th start of the season for the Flames. He joins Toronto’s Freddie Andersen in the 40 start club. Smith is 20-13-4 with a 2.42 goals against average and .925 save percentage this season. David Rittich backs him up. All indications from yesterday’s full skate was that Marek Hrivik would rotate in for Andrew Mangiapane, while Matt Bartkowski remains the other healthy scratch.

Up until their seven game winning streak – which deservedly ended on Saturday – the Flames were a streaky team, alternating a couple wins with a couple losses. They’ve gone from being a playoff fringe team to being firmly in the playoff hunt by way of their hot streak. The secret now? Just don’t go cold. If the Flames can avoid lengthy losing streaks or a string of flat performances, they’re a playoff team. They played a poor game against the Jets but still managed to eke out a point but they’ll need to find their swagger and consistency if they want to rattle off another streak.

The Flames’ power play went 0-for-4 against Winnipeg. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but they need their big power play guns to generate goals with regularity if they want to avoid relying on Smith for all of their wins.

The Sabres

Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:

Girgensons – Eichel – Okposo
Wilson – O’Reilly – Reinhart
Kane – Larsson – Pominville
Nolan – Rodrigues – Baptiste

Scandella – Ristolainen
Beaulieu – McCabe
Falk – Nelson

In a bit of a surprise, former Flames backup Chad Johnson starts for the Sabres. He’s 1-8-3 with a 3.86 goals against average and .878 save percentage. I’m not sure what the logic is starting him, besides the emotional aspect. He’s backed up by Robin Lehner. Based on reports from morning skate, Benoit Poiliot, Victor Antipin and Josh Gorges look like healthy scratches, while Jacob Josefson skated but didn’t participate in line rushes so it looks like his return from injury will have to wait for another day.

Buffalo’s longest winning streak this season is two games. They’ve rattled off four different sequences of four regulation losses this season. They’re not a good team. They’re having a bad year. They lost 7-1 to Dallas on Saturday in a game that prompted Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason to absolutely bury the players, coaching staff and ownership in a scathing column. The market is just dreaming of Rasmus Dahlin at this point.

Injury Report

Flames: Daniel Pribyl (knee), Kris Versteeg (hip), Michael Frolik (jaw) and Jaromir Jagr (groin/knee) are on the injured reserve.

Buffalo: Zach Bogosian (lower-body) and Jacob Josefson (lower-body) are on the injured reserve.

When Last We Met

These clubs haven’t met since last season, when they split their season series with the home team always winning. They’ll play one more time in Buffalo in early March.

The Numbers

CGY BUF
Wins 25 11
Points 55 31
Adjusted Corsi 52.2% 46.0%
Power Play 17.9% 14.3%
Penalty Kill 80.1% 78.3%

Know Thy Enemy

Here are some Buffalo tweeters:

Sum It Up

Can the Flames get back into the win column and inch themselves closer to a playoff spot when they host the Eastern Conference’s worst team? Coming off a quite poor outing against the Jets, the short answer is “Well, you’d certainly hope so…”

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  • JMK

    Wasn’t there a brief time period where posters on here were pining over not selecting Girgensons with Calgary’s pick that year, and trading it for Jankowski and Sieloff’s picks? He’s dropped off a bit it seems.

    • everton fc

      I was one of them. Mea culpa!

      The fact Girgensons will never amount to much more than he already is, and is also the Sabres 1st line/LW… Shows how dismal this team truly is.

      This can’t be lost points. We must win BIG.

    • JMK

      Can’t get them all right. I see a former Flames draft pick, John Ramage, was just traded for ‘Future Considerations’, what exactly are ‘Future Considerations’?

      • JusAFlamer

        why you think it only after every loss?

        many want GG gone period. prior to 2018 he never showed emotion, never seemed to be “in-the-game” was stubborn by the “numbers-say-should-work” refused or could not adapt, could not line match etc. I believe he only started last couple weeks because he had management meeting and is trying to save job now

        was a good assistant coach, could talk the talk but could not handle having the reigns and making decisions without 1/2 season of stats to force him to adapt. Was not just after loss, was after window closed to see what he could actually do (after first half season).

  • Lucky 13

    Is Buffalo really that bad? Yes. The Sabres own the league’s worst record at 11-26-9. They are second to last in the NHL in PP%. Their goal differential on the season is a league worst -59
    U-G-L-Y

    This should be a guaranteed 2 points.

    • Alberta Ice

      Should be guaranteed unless the Flames come in overconfident. Better attitude is to play as though your playoff life depends on this win. Every game is going to be a dogfight from here on in. GFG

      • Cfan in Van

        The Flames can be their own worst enemies tonight, unless they really focus and clamp down. It seems like a lot of their worst performances come when “they should have this one in the bag”.

        Focus is key tonight. GFG!

  • Mickey O

    Too bad Versteeg isn’t playing, there would be some all-world power chirps being thrown in Johnson’s direction looking at those numbers.
    Interesting choice to go with Hrivik in this game, he might have been a better choice in the Jets game being a bigger body than WonderBread.
    It seemed like a decent spot to play Rittich as well, but until February rolls around it looks like GG is just going to play the snot out of Smith.

    • Intercourse the Penguins

      GG was quoted as saying he did not want Smitty to play in 70 or more games this year. He said 60 or so would be better and Mike has already hit 40. Playing Rittich tonight seems so obvious that it makes me continue to question Gulu’s decisions even after our recent successes.

  • Squishin

    This is a must-win tonight. We have to lock down a top three spot in the Pacific – don’t want to be fighting with like 5 central teams for those wildcard spots. Let’s hope the boys bring it tonight; no underestimating Buffalo. Every team is good in the salary cap era, and this one is hungry for a victory after a bad loss to Dallas.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    Send Banana Bread down and keep his one remaining waiver ineligible game in hand. The Heat would be well served to make the playoffs and give all those boys the experience.

  • pennerm

    The Flames are”coming off quite a poor showing against the Jets”?? Has the bar really moved that high? They lost 2-1 in a shootout – and scored first and had a goal disallowed. Against a very good team. Yes, the play was “sloppy and disjointed” (as many afternoon games can be, especially coming off a break), but it was so for both sides. And yes, Mike Smith played the goalie position well and did what goalies are paid to do – stop pucks – but the team did not hang him out to dry. I’m a big fan, Mr. Pike, but I wonder if expectations are little skewed. It’s ok to enjoy the game…

    • Danomitee

      Completely agree. I thought that was a good game from both sides. Thing is, Winnipeg is really really good! You have to give them some credit, and in all honesty a shootout is as close to a tie as you can get.

    • WillyWonka

      Exactly… it wasn’t THAT poor of a showing and both teams had some slop in their play. I saw lots of good thickening the game from flames players. They got beat by a very solid team in a shootout. And the disssalowed goal should have been a goal and possibly the win.

      • Intercourse the Penguins

        @Doc: every game should be a 3 point game. In the regular season that is. 3 for a regulation win and 2 for an OT or SO win and the loser point to even it out. The TV networks are not going to go for unlimited OT.

        • The Doctor

          @intercourse: I realize unlimited regular season OT is a non-starter. Personally I’d like the 3-2-1 point system, but if the game (ot) ends in a tie you each get one point. The added points would be plenty of incentive for teams not to just dog it for the one point.

      • freethe flames

        You are right Stajan has played better in large part because he has been playing with kids who have some speed. I also think tonight would have been a good night to play Hrivik with Mangiapane and Lazar not because Stajan has played poorly but because we need to see more of the kids.

        • Stajanforadirtyboot

          You Stajan supporters do realize he has contributed a total of 2 points this year. That’s 2. The same amount as Smith. Smith is a goalie. Stajan is tied for points with a goalie. This is not better. This is less points then Krzysztof Oliwa when he was a flame. Oh that’s right….He’s a nice guy.

    • The Fall

      Mangiapane is a kid; he hasn’t hit the scoresheet yet. Likely, its just to watch for a couple games. He will be penciled into next years starting lineup.

    • BAN36FROMPP

      Good GG and his questionable player usage and lineup. Enough of Stajan already. Sure he is playing better but he still does not belong in the NHL. Rittich should be playing tonight as well. GG does not get it and if we make the playoffs we will be toast in the first round for him playing guys like Stajan and Brouwer. I do not mind Brouwer on the 4th line just not with A slow and useless plug like Stajan.

  • buts

    My how a goalie can stand on his head and many think we didn’t play poorly on Saturday….if it wasn’t for Smith it would have been a regulation loss. This is a game for Rittich but why would we assume a coach that can’t use players knows how to use goalies and yes it’s a big game, but they all are big games now with the standings so tight. Starting Rittich would I think get the players attention and focus up a notch and make them realize that they can’t rely on Smith to bail them out game in and game out…. Beware of the home town goalie coming back to play his former team…..Did Daniel Prybil have major surgery on his knee? Why has he been injured so long?

  • Dougiefred

    Nervous, the Flames have a tendency to lose games they should win. Sometimes it seems like they think they are entitled to win, no effort necessary. It’s the coaches job to exorcise these demons.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I was not all that bothered by the loss to the Jets as the lads played better as thee game went on and losing in a shootout is always a coin toss.

    These next three games are a different kettle of bananas. If the team comes away with anything less than 2 points against the Sabres, there should be hell to pay. KIngs look like the last days of Sutter as their coach, so again, anything less than 2 points for the Flames is a humiliating kick in the goolies. Flames under Gully are the only team to have not figured out the Oilers. There is no rhyme nor reason this mystery needs to remain unsolved, so if I see Robert Stack after The Oilers’ game, this club will richly deserve all the criticism it gets.

    Looking ahead, the Flames have to embrace the role of the Black Knight and joust the Golden Knight into orbit. Flames have to make it a Black Knight promo night.

    • The Doctor

      “Losing in a shootout is always a coin toss”

      Which is why the NHL should do the honest thing and replace the shootout with an actual coin toss. Or a blindfolded dart throw. Or better yet, just get rid of the shootout and let lame Euros settle hockey games in that pathetic manner, as they are wont to do.

  • Hockeyfan

    Buffalo on the barbi!!!!! Will we seeing Kane on the Flames by March? TJ, Klimchuk for Kane and 1st pick. Cmon tree, do it!!! Flames 6, Buffalo 2. I smell a hatty by Janko.

  • Off the wall

    SJS have caught up to us in games played. They are only 3 points ahead.
    LA is tied in points, (55) however we have a game in hand.
    We really need this win tonight!

  • Skeittari78

    Could we just play all the remaining games away from the ‘dome? It’s like watching a completely different team. Also, the place is like a library which probably doesn’t help. When is Frolik expected to return? The M line misses him a lot.