Give the Calgary Flames some credit. Despite being well out of the Western Conference playoff race, the Flames have vowed not to go down without a fight and to give their fans something to cheer about. Well, even with an ugly 2-9-2 record over their last 13 games, Calgary can be proud of the way they’ve pushed and competed over the last few weeks. The Flames will look to continue that trend tonight when they welcome the Nashville Predators (7:30 pm, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 27-34-5, 6th Pacific Division
Monday night followed a familiar trend of late: the Flames played well but didn’t get rewarded with the desired result. In a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sharks, Calgary was very much the better team and fired a season-high 48 shots on net but just couldn’t solve the opposing goaltender. Martin Jones was out of his mind in making a career-high 47 saves and he was the only reason a lacklustre San Jose team escaped with two points. The Sharks are capable of far better than what we saw two nights ago which inflated Calgary’s advantage. That said, the Flames played some really solid hockey and they should be feeling fairly positive about where their game is right now. Unfortunately, with the recent results, that’s easier said than done.
In his first ever NHL home game, Hathaway continued his strong impression on the Flames. Hathaway continued getting under the skin of opposition foes and was part of drawing four different minor penalties against the Sharks. With just five NHL games under his belt, Hathaway has done everything Calgary could have asked for: he’s played physical, he’s been able to produce at a decent level, and he’s added jump and energy to the lineup. Can Hathaway sustain this type of impact? That remains to be seen, but it’s tough to quibble with what he’s done in his first five games.
It’s nice to see Nakladal’s eye has healed enough for him to return to the lineup after missing just one game. Now, the thought was Wotherspoon would have to go back down with Nakladal’s return, but that is not the case tonight. Wotherspoon remains on emergency recall, but because of a new injury to Deryk Engelland, he’ll be able to stay up for the time being. Engelland is now day-to-day with a lower body injury and will miss out after playing some good hockey of late. We’re also waiting on news about Dennis Wideman’s potential appeal, which we should hear about before the end of the week.
Joni Ortio is back between the pipes for a third straight game after a really strong outing on Monday. While Ortio was nowhere near as busy in the Calgary net as Jones was at the other end, he still had to make a number of ten-bell saves. Since this most recent recall, Ortio has been nothing but solid and is making a nice case for another contract for next season. The next big test for him is to sustain this level of play for the rest of the season, because we’ve never seen this for longer than six or seven games at the NHL level. It sounds like he’s going to get that chance, so the opportunity is right there for the taking. This season, Ortio sits 1-6-3 with a 3.03 goals against average and an 0.897 save percentage.
Nashville Predators 34-21-12, 4th Central Division
Things have finally come together for the Predators after a frustrating first half of the season. All season long, Nashville has been one of the league’s top possession teams, but due to a lack of high end finish and solid goaltending was seriously holding them back. Both things have come around in a big way and it’s lead to a torrid stretch of late. Nashville extended their franchise record point streak to 13 games last night with a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets; they’re 9-0-4 during this stretch. Even more impressive, the Predators have gone 14-3-4 since January 21st which has allowed them to move into a much more comfortable playoff spot. Entering action tonight, Nashville has an eight point edge on Minnesota and Colorado for the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference; they’re also just five back of St. Louis for third in the Central Division.
We mentioned Nashville’s lack of consistent finish earlier, because it was a problem earlier this season. For much of the year, the Preds were generating a lot of offensive zone time, but weren’t converting that to actual production. The addition of Johansen a few months ago has helped, as he’s put up 19 points in 27 games; that addition has also given Nashville to legit scoring lines. That “second” line went off again last night in Winnipeg. The trio of Forsberg, Ribeiro, and Smith combined for four more points yesterday pushing their total to a staggering 45 points in 13 games. Forsberg has 14 goals in his last 15 games to lead the way; he’s done a great job of following up last season’s outstanding rookie campaign.
We also mentioned suspect goaltending earlier. Surprising as it was, Pekka Rinne really struggled in the first few months of the season. That hasn’t been the case during his team’s red hot stretch, though, and that’s not a coincidence. Since January 21st, Rinne has posted a 0.926 save percentage in 17 appearances. Prior to that, Rinne was down at a very mediocre 0.902 clip in 38 games. With the Preds allowing the second least amount of shots per game in the league (27.2), solid goaltending like they’ve gotten of late is going to win a lot of games. With Rinne’s start last night, we’re guessing we see Carter Hutton tonight. In 11 starts this season, Hutton sits 7-2-2 with a 2.16 goals against average and a 0.922 save percentage.