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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

FGD 18: A Bay Area measuring stick (7pm MT, SN360)

The Calgary Flames (10-6-1, 21 points) have shown flashes of brilliance through the first 20% of this season. Tonight, we may discover if they’re actually a good hockey team when they face arguably the top Pacific Division squad, the San Jose Sharks (8-6-3, 19 points) in the second half of a back-to-back.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

The Flames

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Neal
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Hathaway – Jankowski – Czarnik

Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic

Valimaki – Stone

Mike Smith makes the start, backed up by David Rittich. The healthy scratches look to be Anthony Peluso, Rasmus Andersson and Dalton Prout, with Michael Stone swapping in for Andersson (per Derek Wills). It’s a big game for Smith, who hasn’t been overly sharp during the last few weeks while Rittich has been the sharpest we’ve ever seen him.

This game is what’s known as a “schedule loss,” in that the Sharks have been waiting for the Flames while they’ve traveled. But the Sharks haven’t been overly great lately and the Flames have been playing some of their best hockey of the season.

All season, our staff Slack chat has had a consistent question pop up: “Are these guys actually good?” We’ve seen the Flames play really good hockey on and off over the last three seasons, but the consistency just hasn’t been there – especially in situations like this, playing divisional rivals at the end of road trips. This is the type of game good teams, teams with the intentions of making noise in the post-season, find a way to win. Almost as much as their response to the 9-1 Pittsburgh shellacking eight games ago, this game will tell us a whole lot about the 2018-19 Flames.

The Sharks

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Kane – Pavelski – Donskoi
Meier – Couture – Hertl
Sorensen – Thornton – LaBanc
Suomela – Suomela – M.Karlsson

Ryan – Burns
Dillon – E.Karlsson
Vlasic – Braun

Martin Jones starts, backed up by Aaron Dell. The extras look to be Rourke Chartier, Radim Simek and Tim Heed. It sounds like Tomas Hertl returns after missing a few games due to injury.

The Sharks have been idle since a back-to-back set of road games on Thursday and Friday that saw them lose to Dallas (4-3 on Thursday) and St. Louis (4-0 on Friday). Their defensive game hasn’t been amazing and, thus far, they haven’t gelled the way you’d hope a team with as many strong players would. But the Sharks are a proud group and they’ll know the importance of a strong showing against a divisional rival, so expect them to come out of the gates with a lot of gusto tonight.

The Numbers

CGY SJS
Wins 10 8
Points 21 19
Corsi Close 54.7% 57.5%
Power Play 17.2% 18.5%
Penalty Kill 75.0% 87.7%

Injury Report

The Flames are without Dillon Dube, who’s working through the concussion protocol.

The Sharks are healthy.

Season Series

This is the first of four meetings between these two clubs this season. The next time they’ll meet is New Year’s Eve in Calgary.

Know Thy Enemy

Your Sharks Twitter follows for tonight:

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    • Scarface

      I’ll start it. There’s not much debate. If Smith put up the goose egg to start a back to back, he would undoubtedly start game 2. And gut feeling is he’d not accept any other scenario from the coaches. Fair is fair, Rittich deserves the start.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      I think that line has looked way better with Frolik. Backlund needs to finish more, but aside from his game last night, I’m not sure he’s been that bad. His breakaway move last night was great, he just needs to find a way to start finishing.

      And I get that he isn’t a second line offensive juggernaut. That would be nice. But I feel like he’s remarkably underrated as a playmaker, no?

      • oilcanboyd

        Does it matter what the line is called 2nd or 3rd checking line? Backs line has been doing a great job on opp. top lines. What everyone means is that the Flames need a second scoring line. The Bennett/Centre/Frolik-Neal line hopefully. Frolik belongs with Backs line and Peters will change back to that after this road trip.

      • JoelOttosJock

        Frolik and Backlund are 3rd liners. Lindholm and Monahan need to be split up and be the 1-2 centers, or Bennett needs to be put at center. Get Tkchuck away from Frolik and Backlund. When Dube is healthy, have him play with them. Learn the trade. In fact I’d even go so far to say have a Dube Backlund Czarnik 3Rd line. It’s time to cut the dead weight of Frolik, Stone, Smith,

      • LannyMac

        Backlund doesn’t finish because he is soft. I so wish Jankowski takes a big step this year. Backlund is bringing down Tkachuk. Love that Tkachuk is defensively sound but he needs to be with a more creative hard working centre. Backlund will not venture anywhere near contact to make a play. Backlund is one of the softest players in the league.

  • RKD

    There’s way too much loyalty in putting Smith in, Rittich has been the better of the two so you go with the hot hand until Rittch falters. Smith hasn’t done anything to deserve to be in there. Also the back to back is a moot point as Rittich wasn’t overly tested last night.

  • RKD

    The Karlsson trade has been a complete bust so far, 15GP 0G 7A and a -8. He’s not the captain there and definitely doens’t seem to be a fit unless he can turn things around. Wilson gave up: Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo,Josh Norris, Rūdolfs Balcers, First-round pick (2019 or 2020), Second-round pick (2019),Conditional second-round pick (2021),Conditional first-round pick (no later than 2022) for a guy who can leave on July 1st, 2019.

  • Flamesforever

    Suprised Andersson is coming out of the lineup thought he’s played well against these heavier California teams. Maybe Stone is being showcased for a trade down the line?

    • oilcanboyd

      I nailed it! I posted in previous blog that Peters was grousing about the lack of physicality on the Flames after last night’s game and I said Stone will be back in the lineup against the Sharks. I expected Hanifin to sit based on his shaky play though, not Andersson.

  • buts

    Smith has to stop flopping like a fish out of water. He’s been a hot and cold goalie his whole career only thing is this year he’s been very cold. Tonight is a big measuring stick for how good a team we are but ultimately you can’t measure with weak goaltending. Let’s hope Smith gets hot and we can run 2 alternating goalies and win the pacific.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I realize that we need to get Stone some minutes but what do you tell Ras who had a great game. If the the Flames win then Ras likely stays out another game despite playing really well. It is tough to be a coach.

    • GoodSaveDave

      Stone has been idle too long. They let him play a slower team (not too slow but slower) and put Ras in for the high flying Montreal squad Thursday. Only reason this makes sense to me

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      The problem lies in that we have 8D, 5 of who play on the right side. Stone is useless on LD, so he’s never replace Hanifin or Valimaki for a game. Key stat here; last game with Stone in lineup was a 9-1 loss to PITTS. Another one, CGY 5-1-1 wth Stone eating popcorn.

    • Sploooosh

      my thought is that perhaps he’s tired. I know they are all professionals and in great shape, but playing 2 games in 24 hours has got to be pretty rough. And as stated before, If you are rotating Stone in you cant take off gio/hanifin/vali on the left and if you have to choose between brodie/hamonic/Anderson, it makes sense to sit the rookie.

      • Stockton's Finest

        Players regularly play back-to-back games in the AHL. That is a poor excuse if that is indeed what is being said. But with Stone getting the theater treatment (popcorn) it makes sense to put him in.
        On a separate note, Prout should be in Stockton.

      • Chucky

        Last night there was a comment that Peters had some type of cold. If that is the case and it goes around the club it is quite possible that there could be a series of unexplained days off. Sometimes it comes down to who can give the best level on a particular day and sickness can get to even the best conditioned athletes.

  • aye

    Luckily for the Flames, Sharks goaltending hasn’t been much better. While we are hard on Smith, and rightfully so, more than half the league don’t have solid reliable goaltending at the moment, including many contenders, Caps, Pens, Blues, and you can add Sharks to that group too.

    • deantheraven

      That’s what I was thinking. He took a few hits, got knocked down. Made a couple bad choices… Giving the young guy some perspective might not be bad. Stone ought to make the most of it, but I don’t guess he thinks this is another chance to make the line up as a regular. If that happens, Ras will be Stockton bound. That’s hard to picture.
      If there’s a trade in the wind, maybe Stone brings a reasonable return. More so than Prout, anyway…
      But then, if Stone is gone, is Prout our 7D here on out?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      There was nothing said at all about being banged up. Stone “had” to come in to keep him (stale) fresh. There’s only 2 spots he can play in the lineup, in Ras’ place or Hamonic’s. One game off isn;t going to hurt Ras, but it better not be longer. Can’t be “you played well Stone so you stay in” since it wasn’t Ras having a bad game to come out.

  • Squishin

    The win against the Kings was one of the more complete games this team has put together. They’ll need that same effort and likely more to beat the Sharks.
    I am still one of those in the camp hoping that Smith can regain his form in short order. He was a top 10 goalie at this time last year, and I struggle to believe that he can completely lose his game after only a year. He needs to calm down, focus, and quit trying to do so much. Stay in position and play smart.

  • Off the wall

    I’ve been watching Salmon spawning lately at Goldstream Provincial Park, close to Victoria.
    It’s quite miraculous how they fight the current, journeying sometimes over 1,000 km away, just to lay eggs and die. In between the journey, they navigate their way past riffles and chutes, until they arrive at a familiar stretch of riverbed to guide them to the place they were born. All guided by scent.

    It’s also quite the sight to watch Bald Eagles feast on the spoils, all part of the ecosystem cycle.

    Smith hasn’t been the goalie we hoped for this season. He seems to be fighting the current, laying eggs ( if you will) and the opposition has been feasting on him.

    In all cycles, there’s good and bad. From an observer’s point of view it can look bad. Dead scales everywhere.

    But from another viewpoint, it’s provided birth for a new generation.

    Is Smith done? Highly doubtful.
    I’m not suggesting he will be the saviour, however when your options are limited, you make choices. He HAS to find his game. We’re in a pickle over it, but it’s the truth. When you try to fight harder, you tend to overplay, over think and fail to be your own- self. That’s what we’re noticing from Smith. He’s looking tired, off balance and out of sorts. He WANTS to win so much, that he’s fighting against what made him successful.
    In the meantime, Rittich has become the new generation, in his absence. That’s never a bad thing.

    But everything is in cycles, and as fans we need to remember that. Goalies have them. Players have them. We have them.

    Let’s try not to get too worked up on whether or not Smith should just give up. He’s a warrior who’s struggling, however he’s also the guy who looked brilliant up until his injury last season.

    Patience is never fun when you’re a fan, however it might best in this scenario..

    • deantheraven

      I first visited Goldstream in The Summer Of ’79. Still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Almost lost my virginity there… maybe that’s why still have a fondness for the place.
      Smith brought us out of a dark time last season, beginning with his MVP caliber play last Fall. it looked like he was The One, he’d take us to the Promised Land. Maybe that’s why so many of us still have a fondness.
      But time marches on. The girl of my dreams had dreams of her own. She went with another fella.
      Patience isn’t something you consider when you’re a virgin, or when every win counts so much in the Western Conference.
      I’m ready to move on, and accept another fella as the goalie of my dreams.

      • Raffydog

        I’d like to believe that, but I don’t see Smith suddenly finding his game again. This isn’t a mental thing, it’s a guy who time has caught up to. We’re not watching a guy who is struggling to find his form, we’re watching a guy who has lost the natural ability to be good at his posistion.

    • Chucky

      Sometimes people living on VI get all metaphysical and see things that might not be there. Hopefully the Skarks aren’t Eagles and the scales stay away from Smith’s eyes.

  • Pizzaman

    If last nights game was a pizza order: it would not be a doughy (doughty) crust but medium Bennett-crusty, the sauce would be Roma tomato based with some Valimaki Finnish-ing spice and of course it would be meaty with lots of Czech Kobassa and Ham-on-it Just a medium order though.

  • Pizzaman

    Tonight’s pizza order will be seafood – just don’t know if there will be Smith Chum on it that is because the Sharks ordered it instead of the Flames.

  • LannyMac

    This game will tell me the true mentality of this team. For many years whether the team is good or not I watch a group of athletes get complacent way to easily way to often. They have a chance tonight to send a message they want this division. I hope win or loose this game seems important to them.

    • Squishin

      Why The Hell can’t he just work on his glove side reflexes? It’s been his weak spot for more than a whole season now. You’d think the coaches in charge of development would have spotted this glaring weakness in his play.

      • Stockton's Finest

        Welcome to my world. If a guy in the 8th row can see it, I don’t know why the coaching staff can’t. Or maybe they do see it and Gillies doesn’t listen or work on it.

  • Stockton's Finest

    4-0 Reign. Gillies getting beat as often as Smith. Maybe Schneider finishes up. Especially if he gets a game on the back-to-back games starting Tuesday in Colorado.

  • Alberta Ice

    Anyone notice that when Hathaway plays, the Flames usually win? I really like his tenacity and physical play. He and Tkachuk are the two that bring a bit more bite and physicality to the Flames persona. Glad he is playing again tonight. GFG.

  • I am quite shocked by how much hate Brodie still gets. He has been really solid since the 9-1 game and has played his best hockey in the last 2 years throughout this stretch. He takes all the heat while Hanifin, who has been struggling takes no heat. I am not saying he needs to sit, because that pair of Hanifin and Hamonic has been good. But lets not ignore the problems. Brodie isn’t a problem right now, he is playing good hockey