RECORDS: Flames 26-13-4 (1st in Pacific) Hawks 16-21-7 (6th in Central)
PUCK DROP: 7:30
TV: NBCSN Chicago
FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY’S: FlamesNation.ca
It’s a cruel world, this NHL. After the Hawks played what was maybe their best game of the season in Pittsburgh last night, outplaying the hottest team in the league, their reward is to wheel it back out there again tonight against another first-placed team who has been waiting for them. And one that’s already beaten them twice this season. It ain’t all waitin’ on you, as Sheriff Tom Bell’s brother told him at the end of No Country For Old Men.
All seems pretty right in the world for the Calgary Flames, who are at least almost all of the way pivoted to David Rittich in goal, which was their biggest issue. The top line has gone absolutely bonkers, with all of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR….) Lindholm in the top-20 in scoring in the league. Matthew Tkachuk is having quite the free agent hear with 49 points his own damn self from the second line, where Mikael Backlund continues to beat anyone about the head and face possession-wise. They even get contributions from the bottom-six, even if James Neal will soon require a Hazmat treatment to be around.
The defense is the real key, where Mark Giordano‘s normal Norris-worthy year has been joined by a rebound from T.J. Brodie, and a bigger rebound from Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing. They’re even letting child Rasmus Andersson freewheel on the third-pairing, and he’s got wheels for days (and you got ass for weeks yeah yeah yeah).
Earlier in the year, the Flames were having defensive issues, even with that personnel. That seems to have cleared up a little, as only the Sharks give up less attempts per game at evens, and they’ve improved to middle of the pack in xGA/60 from near the bottom where they were. Any middling goals-against numbers are mostly the result of having Mike Smith and his arms that don’t work on the roster, and insisting on playing him any other time than when Rittich has the plague. As with most Bill Peters led teams, their metrics are glowing and this all appears to be real.
Whether the Flames can negotiate their way far in the spring depends on if Rittich is the real deal when it really counts, and if they can finish top of the division. Do that, and you only have to beat one of the Knights or Sharks to get to the West final. Don’t and you have to go through both, and that’s going to be a real trick.
As for the Hawks, they’ll turn to Collin Delia tonight, and you’d have to imagine given the Flames firepower he’s going to be awfully busy. In his limited NHL experience, this is about as good of an offense he’s seen, barring the uncaring Jets at the end of last season. Sure, the Avs have their top line but the Flames have that and then more. So this will be an interesting test, especially behind a tired team.
Shouldn’t be any other changes. Would expect Chris Kunitz to stay in the lineup after not being a toxic waste dump last night. Henri Jokiharju did fly back to Chicago last night and could play but I think Wednesday is more likely. They’d want at least one practice or morning skate, if only to figure out where exactly he slots. But you never know. Other than that, Drake Caggiula makes his home debut.
If the Hawks are going to get anything out of this one, they’ll need the special teams just like they did last night. The Flames aren’t a great PK team, and their power play is not as good as you’d think given what they have on it. A power play goal or two are close to a requirement.
Game #45 Preview Suite