The road has not been a kind place for the Calgary Flames this season. With just six wins away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames sport one of the worst road records in the entire NHL. It’s a big reason they sit near the bottom of the Pacific Division and it’s an area they’re going to need to figure out to stay in the playoff picture. There’s no better time than now to start turning things around. Calgary kicks off a four game road trip tonight against the New Jersey Devils (5 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 20-20-3, 6th Pacific Division
Calgary’s road woes continued on Saturday night as they fell 2-1 in a shootout at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers. It was a disappointing effort for the Flames because they had every opportunity to walk out of Rexall Place with two points. Calgary played a pretty decent first period and lead 1-0 but allowed the Oilers to control the final 40 minutes and eventually tie the game midway through he third period. The powerplay was a big issue for the Flames on Saturday; they went 0-for-5 and missed opportunities to extend their lead to two and to finish the game with a full two minute man advantage in overtime. Games like that are ones Calgary needs to have.
The spotlight seems to want to keep shining on Bennett these days, and rightfully so. Bennett was named the NHL’s second star of the week on Monday and it’s tough to argue. Bennett scored six times in three games last week and enters tonight with a three game goal scoring streak. The red hot rookie has really injected a little offensive spark into the Flames lineup, which is good. For too much of this season, Calgary has relied on Gaudreau to carry the offensive load. Getting a little help from Bennett is something they very much needed.
Speaking of Bennett, his entire line was superb against the Oilers. With his assist on Calgary’s only goal on Saturday, Backlund now has nine points in his last 13 games and has really found an offensive groove of late. He continues to play the toughest head-to-head minutes on the team and he’s excelled while doing so, so the offence is just a nice added bonus. As for Frolik, he returned to action against Edmonton after missing 12 games with an upper body injury and didn’t miss a beat. He and Backlund form a really nice forward pairing and are complimented well by Bennett on the left side.
Both Hudler and Colborne return to the lineup tonight for Calgary. Hudler sat out the game in Edmonton as he continues to be affected by a groin injury while Colborne was a healthy scratch for a second straight game. With those two returning, Josh Jooris and Brandon Bollig will sit out as healthy scratches. Smid returns on the back end taking the place of Deryk Engelland.
The fact that Jonas Hiller will make his third straight start in net tonight has certainly raised some eyebrows. It sure did seem like Karri Ramo had laid claim to the number one job with his place since early December, and yet here is Hiller going for a third straight game. Hiller has played well in his last two starts, stopping 51 of the 52 shots he’s faced. That said, I can honestly say I didn’t see Hiller getting back-to-back starts let alone three in a row knowing the way Ramo had played. Hiller sits 5-4-1 this season with a 3.16 goals against average and an 0.882 save percentage.
New Jersey Devils 22-19-5, 5th Metropolitan Division
It’s been a surprising season for the Devils who are hanging around in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Entering action tonight, New Jersey sits four points back of third spot in their division and just one back of the final wildcard spot in the conference. With a first time head coach in John Hynes and a roster that doesn’t jump off the page at you, many believed the Devils would be hard pressed to be in the playoff mix. More than halfway through their season, though, New Jersey is right there and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The biggest reason for their modest success is between the pipes with goaltender Cory Schneider. He’ll make his league leading 39th start tonight for the Devils and he’s been everything they’ve needed him to be this year. Among goalies with 20 or more starts, Schneider sits fourth in the NHL with a 0.929 save percentage and his 0.940 mark at even strength has him third in the league. Since being handed the reins as the number one in New Jersey, all Schneider has been is the best player on the team and that remains the case right now. He sits 19-14-5 this season with a 2.03 goals against average to go along with his impressive save percentage numbers.
The Devils will get some good news on the injury front as Cammelleri looks ready to return to the lineup. Their leading scorer has missed the last eight games with an upper body injury but looks ready to rejoin Stempniak and Henrique on the top unit. It’s still quite the crowded injury ward in New Jersey right now. Defenceman Jon Merrill will not play tonight after suffering an upper body injury of his own on Saturday night. He joins Jacob Josefson (lower body), Patrik Elias (knee), and Jiri Tlusty (upper body) on the shelf right now.