The Calgary Flames have done a pretty nice job of playing spoiler down the stretch. Whether that’s been their primary motivation or not, the Flames have taken points off of playoff bound teams like St. Louis, Nashville, and Pittsburgh over their last ten games where they’ve gone 5-3-2. Calgary can do some real damage to the position of their opponent this evening as they return home for one game against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 31-37-6, 5th Pacific Division
The Flames fell 6-2 at the hands of the Minnesota Wild on Thursday to finish off a three game road trip. It wasn’t the feel good story everyone was looking for Niklas Backstrom as the veteran goaltender really struggled against his former team. Backstrom allowed two questionable Zach Parise goals in the first period and were never able to fully erase a two goal deficit for the remainder of the game. It was the first true lopsided Flames loss we’ve seen in quite some time and one the team will look to bounce back from this evening.
Calgary will welcome Engelland back to the lineup tonight as he returns after missing three games for personal reasons. Engelland and his wife welcomed their second child to the world earlier in the week so he spent some well earned time with his family while the team was on the road. With Engelland’s return, emergency conditions for the Flames expired on the blueline meaning they were forced to send Tyler Wotherspoon back to Stockton of the American Hockey League. Engelland will return to his familiar spot of late on a defensive pairing with Giordano.
Emergency conditions still exist for Calgary up front, however, as Josh Jooris will miss his second consecutive game with a lower body injury. That means Freddie Hamilton will play his second straight game with the team and he gets quite the boost on the depth chart. Hamilton will start tonight's game on a line with Monahan and Gaudreau as the team continues to look for a fit on that top line. At this point, virtually every option the Flames have tried at right wing with their top forward pairing hasn't worked, so why not give someone else a shot? Hamilton has one goal in three NHL games this season.
After sitting three straight games, Joni Ortio will get the start between the pipes tonight. Ortio sat while Backstrom and Jonas Hiller got starts on the road, but the team will go back to their best option on home ice tonight. Ortio's last start was in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche eight days ago. This season, Ortio sits 4-7-4 with a 2.86 goals against average and a 0.901 save percentage.
Chicago Blackhawks 42-25-7, 3rd Central Division
The Blackhawks are going to need to snap out of their slump soon or they're going to find themselves with a really undesirable first round playoff matchup. Thanks to a 1-4-2 stretch over their last seven games, Chicago has six points back of the Blues and Stars for top spot in the Central Division. More importantly, this skid for the Hawks has put them right back into the clutches of fourth placed Nashville; entering action tonight, the Predators sit two points back of Chicago for the final playoff spot in the division. If Chicago falls down to a wildcard spot, they're looking at a potential first round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings which is something they'd very much like to avoid.
The Blackhawks are getting some good news on the injury front tonight, though. After missing three months with a wrist injury, Chicago will happily welcome Kruger back to the fold on their fourth line/shutdown line with Desjardins and Shaw. Kruger has worked really well as the team's primary defensive face-off specialist; the Swedish World Cup hopeful has started just 17.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, by far the lowest on the team. Seeing him sit second on the team by winning 53.8% of his face-offs makes him an even more valuable member of the team.
With Corey Crawford still on the shelf, Chicago will go with Scott Darling between the pipes for the fourth straight times. Darling was shelled for four goals on 15 shots on Tuesday night in a 6-2 loss to the Dallas Stars so he should be a motivated player tonight. Overall, Darling has been decent as a backup for the Hawks this season; he sits 7-7-3 with a 2.59 goals against average and a 0.913 save percentage.