It’s always nice to return home after a long road trip, but for the Calgary Flames it probably feels like a massive relief. The Flames are back at home after a dismal stretch of five straight on the road where they picked up just three of a possible ten points. Calgary has struggled all season on the road but things have been much better on home ice. The Flames play their final game before the All Star break tonight when they welcome the Nashville Predators (7:30 pm, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 21-23-3, 6th Pacific Division
Calgary’s last two games in particular have been characterized by one particular theme: bad starts. In back-to-back losses in Carolina and Dallas, the Flames had their doors blown off for the first 20 plus minutes of the game and found themselves in a hole as a result. In both games Calgary was able to trim the deficit to one but neither time were they able to come all the way back. It’s tough sledding to be constantly playing from behind and that was the case for too much of that last road trip. Against a very sound defensive team tonight, playing from behind will once again be extremely difficult.
Calgary has a few questions in terms of their lineup tonight thanks to some bumps and bruises. Both Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris are game time decisions tonight as Head Coach Bob Hartley called them “banged up”. The Flames skated the lines above this morning with a few juggles. Without Colborne, Bouma moved up to the left side with Granlund and Hudler while Raymond was the guy skating on the top line with Monahan and Gaudreau. Jones and Jooris split time on the top line on Monday night, but it was Raymond there this morning, so we’ll see if that’s what it looks like come puck drop.
Losing Colborne would remove the team's top offensive producer over the last two games. Colborne has scored in each of Calgary's last two losses marking the first time this season he's scored in consecutive games. Overall, Colborne has three points the last two games and his line with Granlund and Hudler has been the only one to provide any offence. On the one hand, that's a good thing, because this team needs secondary scoring. On the other hand, though, you probably don't want to count on the third line to provide all of the offence on a regular basis.
Karri Ramo gets the call in net once again as he makes his fourth straight start in net. Ramo made 28 saves on 30 shots against the Stars on Monday night and more than gave his team a chance to win. With the team eight points out of a playoff spot right now, Ramo's future with the team is a very interesting conversation. The way he's played the last two months makes him an interesting trade chip, but it also makes him extremely valuable to the Flames. Luckily, there's still a month to go before the trade deadline so no decision needs to be made right now. This season, Ramo sits 16-16-1 with a 2.64 goals against average and a 0.910 save percentage.
Nashville Predators 23-18-8, 6th Central Division
Nashville's trip through Western Canada has been a good one thus far and that continued last night in Vancouver. Neal scored with less than three minutes remaining in the third period to give the Preds a hard fought 2-1 win over the Canucks. Last night was Nashville's third straight win as they were victorious earlier on this trip 4-1 in Winnipeg and 2-1 in Edmonton. Now just one point back of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, the Predators are hanging around and will likely be right in the playoff fight until the end of the season.
So far their acquisition of Johansen has been a successful one. In nine games with his new team, Johansen has three goals and nine points and has helped give Nashville the offensive boost they were looking for. The Predators acquired Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the month in a trade that sent 21-year-old defenceman Seth Jones the other way. While it was hard to part with a player like Jones, bringing Johansen in filled a void that this team has had for virtually their entire existence. Johansen has the chops to be a number one centre in this league and has already played like one at different times. With a deep blueline already, saying goodbye to Jones was a little easier than it would have otherwise, as well
Pekka Rinne made 28 saves on 29 shots in Vancouver last night so we're expecting to see Carter Hutton between the pipes tonight. It's been a rough year in net for the Nashville and that's the one position that's held them back from being much higher in the standings. Rinne has played better of late but his 0.906 save percentage isn't anywhere close to what we're used to from him. Hutton has been slightly better in a more limited role. On the season, Hutton sits 4-2-1 with a 2.55 goals against average and a 0.910 save percentage.