After a tough road trip through California, there was one positive story to emerge for the Calgary Flames. Joni Ortio made his first start in net in almost four months on Tuesday night and was very strong in a 2-1 setback at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. With Calgary’s goaltending situation anything but clear beyond this season, it was a crucial outing for Ortio in what has been a rather disappointing season. Ortio has more than earned a second straight start and he’ll get that start tonight when the Flames return home to host the New York Islanders (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 26-20-3, 6th Pacific Division
Ortio made 35 saves on 37 shots against the Kings on Tuesday; many of those stops were of the ten bell variety. LA had Calgary under siege virtually all night long and were particularly dominant in the first 40 minutes. Ortio stood tall, though, and never let the Flames fall any more than one goal behind at any point. In his first NHL start since October 30th, Ortio tracked pucks well, battled hard, and generally looked very poised. The big challenge now becomes stringing a number of strong performances together. That’s something Ortio has had trouble doing throughout his young career and particularly this season. The long term goal for Ortio is to impress enough down the stretch to get himself another contract with Calgary next season. While that goal has to be realized, Ortio did accomplish his immediate goal in getting a second straight start. Let’s see what he does with it.
You can't really fault Calgary's effort in their two games in California. The Flames fought hard in their losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles, but in the end, those two teams and their relentless possession game was just too much. The problem for Calgary is they're just not at the same level of their division rivals right now and it showed. Both the Kings and the Ducks are playing determined, desperate hockey right now because they need to; the two teams are in a dog fight for top spot in the Pacific. When those two teams play to their capabilities, they're going to beat the Flames on most nights and that was the case on both Sunday and Tuesday. It wasn't for a lack of try, though.
Calgary's special teams sure are at polar opposites lately. On the bright side, the Flames have been very good on the powerplay in recent times. Monahan's PP marker against the Kings was Calgary's eighth goal on the man advantage in eight games; they've gone 8/29 in that span clicking at 27.6%. On the other hand, the penalty kill has been an absolute grind for the Flames during that exact same time period. Calgary has allowed a whopping 14 powerplay goals against in their last eight games; in that span, they've gone just for 22/36 on the PK at 61.1%. Even more alarming is the fact Calgary has allowed at least one powerplay goal in all but one of those games. So, while the Flames have been very dangerous when a man up, that has been balanced, and sometimes erased, by what happens when they're a man down.
After missing the last five games with a lower body injury, Kris Russell seems very close to returning to the lineup tonight. Russell is officially a game time decision, but as Head Coach Bob Hartley put it this morning, it's totally up to the player. Russell has been cleared medically so he'll make the call; if he is back in, you can expect Russell to slot back in in his usual spot alongside Hamilton. Up front Josh Jooris will likely sit as a healthy scratch while Stajan will return to the lineup.
New York Islanders 32-19-7, 2nd Metropolitan Division
The Islanders enter tonight hot on the trail of the Rangers for second in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles are just three points back of their New York rivals with a pair of games in hand and a pretty solid string of games under their belt. The Islanders enter tonight 6-1-1 over their last eight games including an impressive 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. In the midst of a season long seven game road trip, New York is very much in the mix to lock up home ice in round one of the playoffs. That said, the Islanders are only three poitns clear of the Penguins in fourth and thus just a couple of losses away from falling back to the Eastern Conference wildcard pack. At this point, catching Washington for top spot in the division is rather unrealistic.
Not a whole lot jumps off the page at you when it comes to the Islanders right now, at least on the statistical side of things. The one exception to that statement is their penalty kill which ranks number one in the NHL. New York's 87.2% success rate on the PK is 14% higher than their opponents tonight; Calgary just happens to rank 30th on the penalty kill. Tavares is having another really good year with a team leading 23 goals and 49 points while Okposo isn't far behind with 46 points. Right now, though, Okposo's future with the Isles is anything but set; he's a pending unrestricted free agent and many are skeptical he'll stay with the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2006. Even knowing that, it would be a bit of a surprise to see Okposo traded before Monday's deadline knowing where the Islanders sit in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Goaltending has been generally solid for New York this season with both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss getting the job done. Halak remains this team's number one goalie while Greiss has been very solid in a backup role. With a 0.919 team save percentage, the Islanders sit sixth in the NHL in that category. Halak will get his 33rd start of the season; he sits 15-12-4 with a 2.30 goals against average and a 0.918 save percentage.