For the second time in three games, the Hawks will take on the Calgary Flames, this time in Cow Town amid the red clad ranchers at the SaddleDome for the second stop of the Circus Trip.
In their game in between now and last Sunday’s tilt at the United Center, the Flames actually managed to do something the Hawks weren’t able to: and that’s beat the Devils at home. Or anywhere for that matter. It was a rare game where the Flames actually got a .900 save percentage from their goalie with Ramo allowing 2 goals on 20 Devils shots, and they actually out-attempted the Devils at evens, 39 to 38. Certainly a battle for the ages it was.
While Bob Harley’s buffoonery has been well documented even earlier this week, there’s no bigger proof than looking at the home and road splits for the Flames, where they somehow manage to actually be a worse possession team while at home. On SaddleDome ice the Flames allow 57.6 shot attempts per game at evens while only attempting 50.1 for a 46.5% share. That gap narrows to 55.8 for and 58.7 against on the road. And it’s not as if they’re protecting leads and sitting on people at home with a 4-5-1 record, and the score adjusted numbers somehow actually look worse. Further proving this is the fact that the Flames boast three legitimate top pairing defensemen in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and now Dougie “Please, My Father Is Doug” Hamilton. In theory Hartley could go to the baby-sitter style template deployed by Joel Quenneville last spring and have the opposition face at least one solid defenseman no matter the zone start, and especially with last change.
But even if all three of those defensemen were properly deployed and playing to their career averages (Dougie and Gio have had some rough patches while Brodie has been objectively excellent), the Flames transition game is flawed in its delusions of grandeur. It was very clear during Sunday’s game that the Flames are trying to be a quick-strike offense utilizing their admittedly very skilled and very young group of forwards via stretch passes regardless of any neutral ice traffic. But with a team as well coached in the art of back pressuring as the Hawks with the speed to match going the other way, that strategy was basically just asking the Hawks to cut those passes off, giving the Calgary blue line less than realistic targets to hit on long passes. That’s not to say that getting Sam Bennett or Johnny Gaudreau into open ice is ever a bad idea, but there are other less risky ways to accomplish those ends, especially when half the time Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, and $2.9 million dollar man Deryk Engelland are tasked with making those passes or defending when they predictably go awry.
Speaking of delusions of grandeur, Brandon Bollig remains a colossal and useless piece of shit. Please stop putting a microphone in front of this asshole’s giant pink face.
Karri Ramo will the the start in net for the Flames again, faring no better at home in Alberta (Provincial Motto: “Where Save Percentages Go To Die”) than he does on the road. In fact, he’s actually marginally worse at .896 at home to .900 on the road.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, at the very least they will be without Cieslak’s Special Boy Teuvo tonight after leaving Wednesday night’s game against the Oilers. Marko Dano also missed the morning skate, giving everyone more of what they’ve been longing to see: Andrew Shaw as the left wing along side Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. But it gets even better, as Shaw’s promotion also made room for a fourth liner to get bumped up, so naturally Brandon Manshitter took rushes with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins this morning. That promotion resulted in a fourth line of Viktor Tikhonov, Tanner Kero, and Ryan Garbutt. Fearsome stuff right there.
The Hawks’ blue line will have less speed to concern themselves with than in Edmonton, and good thing, as none of the three interchangable parts of either of the Trevors or Michal Rozsival looked like they wanted anything to do with any of it. But if the Flames are still hell bent on stretch passing their way into the Hawk zone, the one thing this unit is built to do is deny entry with stick checks at the defensive blue line.
Scott Darling gets the start tonight because only in a world where these Flames exist is the current iteration of the Vancouver Canucks the more formidable opponent that Corey Crawford will be relied upon to handle. Darling has been awful on the road with an .856 and hasn’t backstopped a win yet. He’ll have to be much, much better than that even against the Flames.
While there are many offensive things about the lineups of both of these teams tonight, the biggest affront to the hockey going world is that the Flames continue to wear their heinous current uniforms full time when they’ve got the incredible retina-searing throwback reds just fucking sitting there. Having the Flames come out sporting those tonight is literally the only way this game will be close to being watchable. But as always, the only Hartley coaching tactic that ever gets through or works is that his teams skate hard for a full 60 minutes, so the Hawks sleep on the Flames at their own peril.