Dennis Wideman is eligible to return to the line lineup tonight for the Calgary Flames. An independent arbitrator reduced Wideman’s 20 game suspension to ten games this afternoon which means Wideman is able to return immediately. As such, he’ll be back in the lineup tonight as Calgary continues a six game home stand against the Arizona Coyotes (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 28-34-5, 6th Pacific Division
Wideman’s return to the lineup makes things very complicated. Because Tyler Wotherspoon was up on emergency recall, he’ll have to be returned to Stockton of the American League now that Wideman is ready to return. As soon as the Flames had six healthy, regular defencemen ready to go, emergency conditions would disappear which is the case now. To make matters more complicated, TJ Brodie will miss tonight’s game with a mid-body injury but they’ll be able to stay at six d-men with Engelland’s return to the lineup. Engelland missed Wednesday night with a minor lower body injury.
We’ll see a lineup change up front tonight, too. Sam Bennett will miss out with a mid-body injury of his own, also suffered on Wednesday against the Predators. Bennett got hit by Nashville’s Mike Fisher in the first period and left; he returned in the second period but left for a second time for good. In his place, the Flames have recalled Agostino from the AHL on an emergency basis. It’s a very deserving nod for Agostino as he leads the Stockton Heat with 42 points in 50 games. Agostino hasn’t played an NHL game since April of 2014 but observers believe his game has been refined over the last two years. He’ll have a great opportunity tonight playing on a line with Backlund and Frolik.
For the fourth straight game the Flames are turning to Joni Ortio between the pipes. Ortio has been solid, if not spectacular, on his most recent recall since Karri Ramo’s season ending injury. In seven starts, Ortio has gone 2-3-2 with a respectable 0.915 save percentage; in the month of March, he’s been even better going 2-1-1 with a 0.924 save percentage. While Ortio hasn’t been incredible, he’s definitely been solid and is making a nice case for himself to get another contract at the end of the season. Calgary has 15 games remaining this season and we’re expecting Ortio to start the bulk of those. If his save percentage stays at around 0.915 down the stretch, he’s got a pretty good job of being qualified and extended for another season. Overall this year, Ortio sits 2-6-3 with a 2.92 goals against average and an 0.899 save percentage.
The Flames are coming off another really impressive home ice effort on Wednesday night. Despite seeing a 2-0 lead evaporate in the third period, Calgary was able to regroup quickly and score the game winner early on in overtime. For a second straight night at the Saddledome, Calgary controlled the majority of the game against a playoff-bound opponent and had them on their heels more often than not. While that hasn’t been the norm for much of this season, it has been a positive sign in games against both the Sharks and the Predators. Now, in both cases, their opposition was very lackluster, but the Flames can only control what they do, and they’ve done of late has been pretty positive.
Arizona Coyotes 28-32-7, 5th Pacific Division
It has been a miserable stretch of late for the Coyotes and they’ve fallen right out of the playoff picture as a result. Arizona is 1-8-1 over their last ten games which is bad. Their 6-16-3 record since January 14th, however, is what has really knocked them out of playoff contention. After a 4-3 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on January 12th, the Coyotes were an impressive 22-16-4 and were very much in the Western Conference playoff picture. Just under two months later, Arizona is four games below the .500 mark and nine points back of Colorado for the final wildcard spot. While many were waiting for the Coyotes to fall off a little bit, their dismal run since mid-January is still a little surprising.
Arizona will be without their best player for a second straight game tonight as defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will miss out once again with a bruised shoulder. Ekman-Larsson leads the Coyotes with 49 points and his 19 goals are second only to Doan’s 24 right now. Losing Ekman-Larsson is a huge blow for a team that is lacking depth already, but the good news is this doesn’t seem like a long term thing.
It won’t be a surprise to hear that Arizona’s goaltending has dropped right off a cliff during this stretch, too. Louis Domingue was a feel good story during his first 11 NHL appearances; he went 7-2-2 in his first 11 starts with a 0.932 save percentage. Things have normalized since then, though. In Domingue’s 23 appearances since January 14th, he’s gone 6-13-3 with a very mediocre 0.901 save percentage. At just 24, Domingue may still be a solid goaltending option for the Coyotes down the road, but right now he’s really struggling. Overall this season, Domingue sits 13-15-5 with a 2.77 goals against average and a 0.911 save percentage.