By and large, the Calgary Flames have been fairly healthy this season. They’ll be without another winger tonight, however, as Jiri Hudler will sit out with a lower body injury. Already without Michael Frolik, the Flames will play without two of their regular top six wingers this evening. Calgary is back on home ice tonight when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 18-18-2, 6th Pacific Division
Hudler played less than six minutes in Calgary’s 4-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night and was held out of the third period for precautionary reasons. Head Coach Bob Hartley made it sound like Hudler’s lower body ailment has been nagging him for a little while; he said Hudler played through it on New Year’s Eve against the Kings but had to take a seat the following game in Denver. We should know more on the injury later in the week, as Hudler is scheduled for a few tests in the next few days. With Hudler sitting tonight, Mason Raymond will return to the lineup after missing the last three games as a healthy scratch.
The banner season for Gaudreau continues, as Calgary's leading scorer was rewarded for his stellar month of December by being named the NHL's first star of the month. Gaudreau finished with 12 goals and 18 points in 13 games last month; he had two hat-tricks, four multi-goal games, and three game winners in that span. Right now, Gaudreau leads the Flames in scoring by 13 points and has turned into one of the league's most dynamic offensive players. What's really scary is when you think about where the team would be without him. Gaudreau's performance in Calgary's 9-4 month of December is especially resounding. Had it not been for him, the Flames likely don't string together the type of month they needed to help salvage their season. It's only 38 games in, but it's not a stretch for me at all to put Gaudreau into the Hart Trophy conversation, because he's been that good and that important.
Jooris's return to the lineup was a strong one on Saturday. The second year forward had a goal and an assist on a line with Stajan and Bouma and was his usual effective self. It's been a small mystery to see why Jooris has been a healthy scratch as frequently as he's been this season, because his body of work has been very strong all season. Jooris is Calgary's third best possession player with a rate of 50.82%, which is saying something on a team with most of it's player in the negative by that metric. Hopefully his game against the Avalanche will help him stay in the lineup going forward.
For the first time this season, the Flames are coming off a game where a goalie has posted a shutout. Karri Ramo made 26 saves in Denver for his first shutout of the season in a very solid, consistent effort. Ramo's turnaround has been rather stunning, as he's been number one quality over the last month or so. Since December 1st, Ramo has posted a 0.925 save percentage in 12 games to really help boost his overall numbers. Ramo now sits 14-12-1 with a 2.60 goals against average and a 0.910 save percentage.
Tampa Bay Lightning 19-16-4, 5th Atlantic Division
It's been a somewhat frustrating season for the defending Eastern Conference champs. Tampa got off to a rather dismal start, and while they've certainly got better, they still enter tonight two points back of a playoff spot. To say the expectations were high for Tampa coming into the season is a slight understatement, so to see them toiling in fifth in their division is somewhat surprising. That said, this team definitely has the capability of getting on a nice, long run and it wouldn't shock anyone to see that happen in the second half of the season. Tampa is coming off a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
One name you'll see missing from the forward lines above is Jonathan Drouin, as the former first round pick has requested a trade. Drouin's agent put out a statement over the weekend detailing their trade request, and now we wait on Lightning GM Steve Yzerman as to what his next move will be. The trade request was made in November, so it's not like Yzerman moved quickly to accommodate the 2013 third overall selection. Drouin has been assigned to Syracuse of the American League for the time being and reported there this morning.
Ben Bishop gets the start in net for the Bolts tonight. Tampa's number one goalie has played like one once again, with a save percentage of 0.925 in 30 starts to this point. While Bishop's long term future in Tampa is somewhat uncertain, his immediate future is very clear. Bishop is this team's number one goalie. Yes, he only has one more year left on his contract, but it would be a surprise to see the Lightning move him this season as they still have designs on competing for a Stanley Cup. Bishop sits 15-12-3 on the season with a 2.06 goals against average and that aforementioned 0.925 save percentage.