RECORDS: Hawks 17-17-6 Flames 20-16-5
PUCK DROP: 8pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
FRIENDS OF CAL AND GARY: Flamesnation.ca
Cal and Gary would probably be way down the list of NHL cities you’d choose to spend NYE in, but the Hawks don’t get much choice as that’s what the schedule says. It’s one of two sojourns they have to make to Western Canada due to the utterly fucked nature of the NHL schedule, as they’ll kick off 2020 in Vancouver. Somewhat symbolic given what those trips used to mean in the first half of the decade and now don’t mean shit except to the few lunatics who still want to boo Duncan Keith. But we’ll get to that Thursday. Tonight, the Hawks will deal with one of the more confusing teams in the West.
The Flames were supposed to be amongst the glitterati. They did post the most points in the conference last year, and basically returned the same team minus Mike Smith and his amazing powers to turn everything he touches into barf. They had a solid backup this time around in Cam And Magic Talbot to back up Big Save Dave Rittich. They didn’t really add much to it, but steps forward from Oliver Kylington (and his weirdly pronounced name) and Rasmus Andersson were supposed to take pressure of the top of the defense. They still had a young, dynamic forward corps and depth.
And it all just kind of has been…there.
It’s turned around from earlier in the year, as the Flames were way out of a playoff spot to start but are now in one. But no one is reaching the heights of last year. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are dealing with SH% problems as well as possession problems. Mark Giordano may simply have been broken by Nathan MacKinnon in the playoffs last year, and he’s also 36. And when he’s not very good, TJ Brodie isn’t good at all. Matthew Tkachuk and his gaping maw haven’t been as good away from Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, though he’s hardly been bad.
What the team is really suffering is the NBA Jam guy constantly screaming, “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!” They have the fourth-worst SH% as a team overall, which has negated their more than acceptable goaltending. They aren’t creating a wealth of chances (21st in xGF/60) but you’d still expect them to do better than over 7% of finding the net. If that rebounds at all, the Flames should comfortably get back to the playoffs and probably pass the Coyotes and Oilers to do it.
They’ve also had the off-ice shenanigans with Bill Peters being outed as a scumbag and the switch to Geoff Ward. That seemed to alleviate some things but not all, as they’re 2-3-1 in the last six. It’s a team that just hasn’t really done anything that well so far this year, and until their top line starts to act like one, that might be the case all season. Lucky for them, their division is so bad they can just sort of float to or near the top.
For the Hawks, you wouldn’t expect too many changes tonight. Possibly Olli Maatta to come back in but they’ve been loathe to change a winning squad so we’ll see. Lehner looks poised to take the lion’s share of the starts the next little while, as he’s just playing better.
This has not been a friendly opponent for the Hawks of late. They’ve lost their last six against them, not beating them since the ’17-’18 season. Tends to be the case with teams that have a lot of speed and play like it, which the Flames at least used to do. The possession-dominant ways of Peters have gone away, as they’re only middling in that sense now. Giordano’s fade has something to do with that, and Hanifin is the only player to really improve from last year.
As we keep saying, if the Hawks want to make anything of this season it has to be right now. The schedule is somewhat kind, they’ve played better in the last two (at least most of them) and so this is the time to get on a roll. But then, we say that a lot, don’t we?
Note: I may be on the Twitter feed for part of this, or not at all. And any recap will be in the morning, if any of us are in any condition to watch this thing tonight. You know how it goes.