206Johnny Gaudreau
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

FGD 1: The Flames begin 2020-21 sprint in Winnipeg (6pm MT, SN West)

Friends, it’s time for the sprint to begin. The Calgary Flames (0-0-0, 0 points) begin a very unique 2020-21 season, shortened to 56 games by a pandemic, on the road against the Winnipeg Jets (0-0-0, 0 points). It’s the first game of a 56 game, 116 day sprint for the Flames towards the post-season.

For a view from the other side, check out our frenemies over at JetsNation!

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The Flames

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Tkachuk – Lindholm – Dube
Gaudreau – Monahan – Leivo
Mangiapane – Backlund – Ryan
Lucic – Bennett – Nordstrom

Giordano – Andersson
Hanifin – Tanev
Valimaki – Nesterov

The belle of the free agency ball, Jacob Markstrom makes his Flames debut after signing a six year deal with the club. He’s backed up by David Rittich. The taxi squad is Louis Domingue, Connor Mackey, Oliver Kylington, Zac Rinaldo, Derek Ryan and Buddy Robinson. All indications are that Wednesday’s practice lines are the group that will play tonight.

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Expected to make their Flames debuts, in addition to Markstrom, are Dominik Simon, Josh Leivo, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Tanev and Nikita Nesterov. That’s six players making their first appearances with the franchise in a single game, which may be a record of some kind.

That said, there’s a possibility that Ryan is activated and plays instead of Simon, so bear that in mind if making judgements on the forward lines right now. Update: Ryan is in! Domingue dresses in place of Rittich, who is out with a family issue.

The Flames come into this season (a) optimistic about their newfound depth and (b) cranky that they couldn’t do more in the post-season. They let their series against Dallas slip away with some key gaffes at key moments – they weren’t run out of the rink, but they gave the series away in a handful of key junctures – and they’re hoping that the experience makes them wiser and less prone to doing silly things in playoff games.

To get a chance at proving that they’ve improved, first they’ve got to qualify for the playoffs.

The Jets

Projected lines, via Daily Faceoff:

Ehlers – Scheifele – Wheeler
Connor – Stastny – Laine
Copp – Lowry – Appleton
Perreault – Thompson – Lewis

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Morrissey – Poolman
Forbort – Pionk
Beaulieu – Niku

Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck starts for the Jets, backed up by Laurent Brossoit. Sami Niku comes in for Dylan DeMelo, whose wife just had a baby. Logan Stanley and Mathieu Perreault have been activated from the taxi squad. The remainder of their taxi squad is Mikhail Berdin, Dylan Samberg and David Gustafsson. Jansen Harkins looks to be their lone healthy extra forward.

Nikolaj Ehlers was absent yesterday and the NHL has him listed on their COVID-Related Absences list. There’s a chance he’s cleared to play, but don’t count on it. Update: He’s in! Kristian Vesalainen sits.

The 2020-21 Jets closely resemble the 2019-20 Jets, and have the same strengths and holes. Their goaltender is top notch. Their forward group is deep and fast. But their defensive group is incredibly top-heavy once you get past Josh Morrissey, and they’re a group that could be exploited over a playoff series – or, like we’ll see frequently this season, several meetings over the course of a week.

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The numbers

Calgary Winnipeg
Wins 0 0
Points (%) 0 (.000) 0 (.000)
Adjusted Corsi For 0.0% 0.0%
Power Play % 0.0% 0.0%
Penalty Kill % 0.0% 0.0%

The drive to 65

If you peruse most standings projections, it becomes apparent that 65 points probably gets you into the playoffs. That’s a 32-23-1 record, or thereabouts, or a .580 points percentage.

The Flames begin this march, obviously with zero points and a .000 points percentage. They have a blank canvas, and some work to do.

Unfit to play report

The Flames are healthy.

The Jets are without Bryan Little and Dominic Toninato. As noted, Ehlers is going through the COVID protocols as of Wednesday, so he’s questionable in terms of his availability.

When last we met

These two clubs met in the NHL’s Return to Play back in the summertime, with a battle in the best-of-five qualification round. The Flames won the series in four games, with Matthew Tkachuk doing Matthew Tkachuk things and Paul Maurice screaming bloody murder at a couple press conferences.

The Jets were missing Scheifele, Laine and Appleton for the balance of the series and were seriously over-matched by Calgary.

Know thy enemy

Your recommended Twitter follows for tonight’s contest: