The Calgary Flames should be feeling pretty good about things following their 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night. The Flames controlled their final game before Christmas from start to finish and took one of their more decisive victories of the season. Tonight, Calgary has the opportunity to make it two straight wins as they pay a visit to the NHL’s 30th ranked team in the Colorado Avalanche (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 18-16-2, 5th Pacific Division
Friday’s win was an important one for the Flames, mainly because of how three of their prior four games had gone. Calgary had lost three of four games entering Friday night and had been thoroughly outplayed in all three of those setbacks. Against the Canucks, though, the Flames were clearly the team in control and the final shots, scoring chances, and possession told you all you needed to know. Calgary finished with a 34-10 shot edge according to Hockeystats.ca to go along with 55.7% offensive possession. It was a pretty thorough and deserved victory and, against a team like Colorado, the chances is there for another performance like that.
What the Flames have going on right now with their powerplay is something impressive to watch. After struggling mightily on the man advantage to start the season, Calgary has turned their powerplay unit into one of the most efficient in the league. In last week’s loss in San Jose, the Flames had their run of consecutive games with a powerplay goal snapped at eight. They got right back on the board against Vancouver, though, and now have powerplay goals in nine of their last ten games. During that ten game stretch, Calgary is 14/38 a man up with a 36.8% success rate.
The Flames will be without Troy Brouwer tonight thanks to a hand injury suffered on Friday at the end of the first period. Brouwer took what looked like an innocent shoot in by linemate Versteeg off the hand/wrist area; he left the game and didn’t return and has his stretch of 309 consecutive games played snapped as a result. The extent of Brouwer’s injury isn’t known yet, but without him tonight, Calgary will promote Micheal Ferland to his spot on a line with Versteeg and Monahan. Ferland’s promotion opens up a spot for Bouma to return to the lineup which he’ll do on the fourth line with Stajan and Hathaway. It looks Freddie Hamilton and Tyler Wotherspoon will sit as healthy scratches tonight.
For the third time in four games, the Flames will turn to Brian Elliott between the pipes tonight. After snapping a personal seven game losing skid last week, Elliott has now won his last two starts and had to make just 13 saves in the team’s win over Vancouver on Friday. On the season, Elliott now sits 5-9-1 with a 3.07 goals against average and an 0.890 save percentage.
Colorado Avalanche 12-20-1, 7th Central Division
It’s hard to wrap your head around why the Avalanche have been so bad this year, but the fact is they enter tonight as the league’s worst team. What’s really stunning is Colorado’s deficit in their division; they trail sixth-place Winnipeg by ten points and sit 24 points back of first place Chicago in the Central Division and they’re only 33 games into the season. The reality is, the Avalanche are already playing out the string and general manager Joe Sakic has made it clear he’s looking to make some significant changes to his roster.
The statistics are not flattering for Colorado beyond just their lowly record. The Avalanche sit 30th in both goals for (2.03 per game) and goals against (3.18 per game) while everything else sits in the bottom third of the league, too. They’re 25th in both special teams with a bad powerplay (14.7%) and penalty kill (79.0%) while their shot rates are very poor, too. With a 46.7% possession rate, only the Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders spend less time in the offensive zone than Colorado does.
Unfortunately for the Avalanche, there hasn’t even been solid goaltending to bail them out on most nights. Arizona, for instance, has been very bad this season, but Mike Smith’s work between the pipes has kept them a lot of games. With a team save percentage of .902, though (fifth worst in the league), the tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard haven’t been able to do the same. With Varlamov nursing a minor groin injury, the Avs will go with Pickard tonight; he’s 6-6-1 this season with a 2.72 goals against average and a 0.911 save percentage.