36Bill Peters
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Goalie matchup, a deep forward group, and Sam Bennett’s ‘stache: Notes before Game 1

As expected, there was a minor media circus at the Scotiabank Saddledome prior to Game 1 between the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche. Here are the main takeaways from both clubs’ morning skates.

Mike Smith is starting Game 1

The Flames will open the series with their most experienced netminder starting Game 1, Mike Smith. Flames head coach Bill Peters explained the decision while speaking to the media.

“We have confidence in both our goaltenders, and Smitty was good down the stretch,” said Peters. “He has some experience and we’ll lean on him to get the playoffs started here. Experience is a word that’s been thrown around a lot the last five days; if you have some, you should use it.”

Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar noted the challenges that Smith’s puck-handling can cause.

“We’ve talked about some things for when he does handle the puck,” said Bednar. “I think the key to it, though, is making sure you keep the puck away from him. It’s easier said than done. Whether that’s same-side chips or if you’re putting it on a rim, it’s going to have to get up in the glass so he can’t get out and handle it clean. We’ve got to make sure we’re skating on the forecheck all the way to the goal lines to get after him.”

Countering a hot Colorado goaltender

Despite the presence of the more-experienced Semyon Varlamov, Colorado is opting to start Philipp Grubauer for Game 1. Grubauer was critical to the Avalanche pushing into the playoffs.

“Grubey just elevated his game to a while other level here,” said Bednar. “He’s given us a chance to win every night. He looks confident, quick in goal, he’s taking care of rebounds, doing all the things that we’ve talked about a lot. To me, just based on what he’s done the last month or so of the season, he’s earned the right to start for us in goal.”

The challenge for the Flames will be trying to solve one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL. The key, according to Peters, is generating traffic in front of him.

“All the goals in playoffs are traffic, right?” said Peters. “Not all of it. Last year it was 72 per cent, is the number we came up with. 72 per cent from traffic, or you’ve got to have seconds and thirds, or you’ve got to have fly-by screens. The rush game goes away a little bit. Heavy O-zone time is prevalent in the playoffs now, and then obviously the power play has to be able contribute and ours has to be better than it was going down the stretch.”

Sticking to what works

At least to start the series, the Flames are going with their four most common line combinations. Peters noted that the continuity should provide the team with some nice energy.

“I think it’s good,” said Peters. “I think it’s important for us. I think it gives us good rhythm off the bench. This is definitely the most rhythm we’ll have off the bench on bump-up shifts coming off power plays and penalty kills and being very comfortable with who’s being used in those situations.”

On Wednesday, Peters noted that Mark Giordano just needs to “be Mark Giordano” to be effective during the playoffs. Similarly, the Flames had 19 different players score game-winning goals in the regular season, and seemingly the key to them being effective is sticking to what works and “being the Calgary Flames.”

“We have a really deep team,” noted Rasmus Andersson. “I think people don’t realize how deep we are, and how good all four lines has been. Look at our fourth line, it’s been maybe one of the best lines in the NHL the last 10, 15 games. That’s just how deep a team we have. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or who’s not playing, we all know our roles and we all trust our roles.”

Peters explained that the rationale behind the Game 1 setup is going with what’s been successful – though he noted that things will obviously change as the series unfolds.

“We’ve been successful all year,” said Peters. “We don’t need to change a whole bunch. There’ll be some slight adjustments made throughout the series as we get playing, but we can’t anticipate those adjustments… I’m sure there’ll be some tweaking as we go due to circumstances, but I like the group we’re starting with for sure.”

Sam Bennett rocking the ‘stache

Sam Bennett grew a beard during his injury absence, but he partially shaved prior to Game 1. He now sports a jaunty mustache.