After a disappointing and frustrating start to their season, the Calgary Flames are going back to the drawing board for their home opener tonight. The Flames opened their season on Wednesday with a convincing 3-0 loss in Edmonton and will now look to get things back on track when they play their home opener against the Winnipeg Jets (8 pm, CITY TV and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 0-1-0, T-6th Pacific Division
Tonight will not be the night Jaromir Jagr makes his NHL debut, as he’ll sit out the home opener as he tries to get in game shape after five months away. Jagr had been skating with Versteeg and Bennett during his first two day at practice and even got some powerplay work during Friday’s skate. But all along Jagr has said he won’t play until he’s feeling ready to go, so tonight’s decision doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Head coach Glen Gulutzan says there’s a decent chance Jagr will be ready to go Monday in Anaheim, but again, that decision will be left in the player’s hands.
Benefiting from Jagr’s absence is Lazar, as he’ll make his season debut on that line with Bennett and Versteeg. Lazar was a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s loss, but gets a great opportunity to make an impact this evening. Lazar certainly had his struggles during the preseason, but he felt his final game against the Jets was his strongest of the fall. With Lazar slotting in on the third line, Brouwer will drop down to play with Stajan and Glass on the fourth line.
The Flames could certainly use Jagr in the lineup tonight, as they really struggled to generate any offence on Wednesday night. Calgary created very few scoring chances, generated only 27 shots, and looked generally pedestrian all night long. The bottom six specifically spent very little time in the offensive zone, as players like Brouwer, Bennett, and Glass were all under water in a big way. A little more depth in their forward units should help rectify that a little bit and Jagr will definitely give the team some better depth.
Wednesday’s bright spot was the play of Mike Smith in net, and he’ll get the start again this evening. Smith was dynamite as the Oilers peppered Calgary with 45 shots, many of the ten bell variety. Right from the hop, Smith was dialled in and ready to go, as was evidenced by his stop on a Connor McDavid breakaway less than a minute into the game. After that strong performance, Smith sits 0-1-0 on the season with a 2.03 goals against average and a 0.955 save percentage.
Winnipeg Jets 0-1-0, T-4th Central Division
The Jets are coming off a rough start to their season, just like their opponent is tonight. After a really good start at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the wheels fell right off en route to a 7-2 loss. Head coach Paul Maurice didn’t like the way his team lost their composure as the game went along and is looking for a much better effort as they try to bounce back this evening.
If there’s one player to watch tonight regardless, it’s Laine, but against Calgary this evening that’s even more so the case. Laine led the Jets with five goals and eight points during the preseason, and most of those points came against the Flames. Four of those five goals, and seven of the eight points, were scored against Calgary in what was a ridiculously strong showing in two games. The expectations are high for Laine in year two, after he put up 36 goals and 64 points in his rookie season.
While the Jets are looking to bounce back as a team, goaltender Steve Mason is looking to bounce back on an individual basis, too. Mason was pulled in Wednesday’s loss to Toronto after allowing five goals on 15 shots and relieved by Connor Hellebuyck for the rest of the night. Mason’s numbers don’t look good after one start: he’s 0-1-0 with a 7.32 goals against average and a 0.750 save percentage.