RECORDS: Hawks 6-5-3 Flames 8-5-1
PUCK DROP: 9pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
BEING RELOCATED FOR OLYMPICS: Flamesnation.ca
For a Saturday night, especially right at the beginning of prime drinking time, you probably want a game between two teams that like to get up the ice and couldn’t stop a nosebleed on the other end (CAN’T WAIT!) on your television as party fodder. Well friendo, that’s what you’re going to get tonight at the Not Saddledome in Calgary. The Hawks and Flames are something of mirror images of each other: ultra-aggressive with both forwards and defense getting into the attack, and more than occasionally leaving the goalie to fend for himself with nothing much more than a toothbrush, paper clip, and a sense of whimsy.
How they go about it is slightly different. The Flames have a pretty good blue-line, though one they decided to reduce a touch by moving out Dougie Hamilton for Noah Hanifin, and the latter has not impressed the Red Mile yet. The Hawks have a plus goalie who can, more often than not when healthy, stand up to the roving hordes that their defense and system wave through with not much more than a quizzical look. The Flames very much do not. The Flames though have a genuine top line and one of the more dominant lines in hockey behind it. The Hawks do not. Either way, what you’re left with is a good measure of fireworks.
We’ll start with Cal and Gary. They come in having won three in a row, the last being a barnburner where they had to overcome Mike Smith‘s ill-timed sneezes every time the Avs put a shot anywhere near him. They did that with five goals in the 3rd for a 6-5 win. And that’s been the story for the Flames so far. They either have to overcome what Smith and their defense combine to destroy, or they get the competent goaltending from David Rittich whom their coach pretends doesn’t exist. They can’t always do the former.
Bill Peters is having the same issues in Western Canada that he did on Tobacco Road. His system does create a lot of attempts for his team, and the puck spends the majority of the time, and a big majority at that, in the right end of the ice. But he has his defense so hopped up on goofballs to get up the ice and his forwards stretching that they leave a ton of space behind. D-men get stranded on breakouts, forwards don’t get back, or d-men get caught up ice. All this might sound very familiar to you, the Hawks follower. So once again, Peters has a goalie straining under the pressure, and Mike Smith at 36 is unlikely to rediscover any plate-spinning form.
What Peters does have that he didn’t in Carolina is genuine, top-line talent. All of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Lindholm (WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?) are averaging a point-per-game or more. Behind that is the 3M line, when Peters isn’t stringing up Michael Frolik for reasons no one can identify, which has been one of the most effective lines in hockey for years now. They get the toughest assignments, the toughest zone-starts, and yet they just punt the play up the ice all the time. They have also scored a bunch, as Matthew Tkachuk has 17 points, Frolik six goals. Peters clearly didn’t have this weaponry with the Canes.
The bottom-six isn’t a barren wasteland, though James Neal might wonder what he’s doing there after signing a free-agent deal presumably to run with Gaudreau and Monahan.
And the Flames should have a good blue line. Getting to play with Mark Giordano again has brought T.J. Brodie back from his kabuki interpretation of the Walking Dead he’s been performing for the past two seasons. Travis Hamonic hasn’t been the sand person he was last year, though he and Hanifin are always capable of a clanger. Two kids on the third-pairing, Juuso Valimaki (JUU! SO!) and Rasmus Andersson have really turned heads with some hammock shifts. But again, with Peters basically having everyone shotgun up the ice as if there was a giant “FREE BEER!” sign over the end-boards, they do get caught a lot on odd-mans and breakaways. The Hawks should have some chances.
And they’ll give away some, too. We know this. And if they leave the Flames’ top-six off the leash too much they’re coming home from Western Canada with nary a point. No word yet on lineup changes. One would have to assume Nick Schmaltz will get back in, where he can do everything he can to create chances for Alexandre Fortin and SuckBag Johnson and then watch them fire the puck off Harvey The Hound. Brandon Manning will probably draw back in but as you know it doesn’t matter for what on that third-pairing so EAT ARBY’S. Crow will get the start because he has to.
This one has 5-4 written all over it, but the Hawks can have serious hope that Crawford can outplay Smith, unless they take Smith’s puddle-making extravaganza from Thursday as a sign to pivot to Rittich. Crow will almost certainly see more chances against. But he has a better chance of standing up to them than the other two do. At least that’s the hope.
Game #15 Preview Suite