The Calgary Flames have had a flair for the dramatic in the early stages of the 2013-2014 season. Seven of the eight games they’ve played in have been decided by one goal, and none were closer than Monday night’s 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. With a late powerplay, the Flames scored with just under 30 seconds remaining to come away with their fourth victory of the season. Every game Calgary has played in has been close, and that is unlikely to change this evening.
With a five game road trip now more than half done, the Flames will roll into the desert to take on the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time (8 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). Both teams play close hockey, and both teams are off to positive starts to the season. The Coyotes have points in six straight, so things don’t get any easier for Calgary as the road trip rolls on.
Calgary Flames 4-2-2, 6th Pacific Division
Curtis Glencross-Mikael Backlund-David Jones
Mike Cammalleri-Joe Colborne-Lee Stempniak
Sven Baertschi-Sean Monahan-Jiri Hudler
Lance Bouma-Roman Horak-TJ Galiardi
Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Kris Russell-Dennis Wideman
Chris Butler-Shane O’Brien
It looks like we might see some lineup changes for the Flames this evening, as you can tell from the lines above. Jones could return this evening after being cleared to practice after missing the last few games with an upper body injury. Matt Stajan was also cleared to practice today after missing the last seven games with a leg contusion.
It may also be the season debut for Roman Horak who was recalled from Abbotsford on Sunday afternoon. If Jones and Horak play, it’s a good bet Brian McGrattan will exit the lineup along with Ben Street. Because Jones was on IR, the Flames would have to make a roster move, most likely sending Street to the Heat, as he cleared waivers prior to the start of the season. On the blueline, there’s also some speculation Chris Breen may play in place of Chris Butler this evening.
Last night, the powerplay was the biggest positive for Calgary, as they were 1 for 10 on this road trip prior to last night, and are now 4 for 16. Overall, the Flames powerplay went from 16th in the NHL at 17.9% to sixth at 23.5%.
Cammalleri’s return made an instant impact for Calgary playing a man up. At even strength, Cammalleri was just okay after missing the first seven games of the regular season and much of the preseason with a hand injury. On the powerplay, however, he was very dangerous and scored his first goal of the season while setting up another in the second period. It’s going to take a little bit for Cammalleri to fully be back in the swing of things, but his immediate impact on the man advantage was something that was noticeable right away.
Head Coach Bob Hartley’s powerplay utilization is very interesting. Wideman leads all NHLers in powerplay ice time, averaging 5:07 per game. Hudler isn’t far behind, ranking second among NHL forwards with 4:49 of powerplay ice time per game. Hartley is playing to strengths by doing this, and it certainly paid off against the Kings.
Speaking of Hudler, he’s off the best start of his NHL career with 11 points in his first nine games. The second year Flames player added two more points last night and is the only player to have recorded a point in each of his team’s game thus far. Hudler’s previous best start came last year, in his first season with Calgary where he recorded nine points in his first nine games.
Monahan finished last night with a career-high 21:11 of ice time and added his sixth goal of the season. The 19-year-old rookie continues to impress and it would be an absolute shocker if he didn’t remain with the Flames beyond tonight, the final game of his nine game tryout. Will Monahan continue to score like this? Probably not, as he’s shooting at 31.6% which is a good 20% higher than the high end of the league average. That said, he’s proven he can be a consistent offensive threat even when the pucks aren’t going in at a rapid pace.
Joey MacDonald gets the start in net one night after Karri Ramo had his best performance in his second NHL stint. Ramo made 27 stops to pick up his first win since joining the Flames, and now it becomes very interesting to see who Hartley pegs on Thursday night. Calgary finishes this road trip in Dallas on Thursday, so we’ll see if MacDonald can make a case for that start with the one he’ll get tonight in Phoenix. Overall, MacDonald is 3-1-1 with a 2.99 goals against average and a 0.891 save percentage.
Phoenix Coyotes 5-2-2, 3rd Pacific Division
Rob Klinkhammer-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan
Mikkel Boedker-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski-Mike Ribeiro-David Moss
Kyle Chipchura-Jeff Halpern-Paul Bissonette
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle-Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla-David Schlemko
The Coyotes are off to a pretty nice start to the season. After dropping two of their first three games, Phoenix has earned points in six straight games, going 4-0-2 over that span. They’ve allowed just 15 goals over those six games and have done things the way we’ve come to expect from this bunch. Dave Tippet’s group is playing close hockey and getting opportunistic scoring and won’t be an easy out at any point this season.
Hanzal leads this team in scoring with two goals and eight points in nine games, but it’s been a pretty balanced attack for the most part. Ribeiro, Vermette, and Boedker all have seven points while Vrbata and Morris each have six. Much like has been the case the last four years under Tippet, no one player is going to carry the scoring load for this team. Offense is going to come by committee in Phoenix, and it has so far through nine games.
Mike Smith looks to get the start in net for the Coyotes after a memorable night in Detroit on Saturday. The newly signed goaltender became the 11th goaltender in NHL history to score a goal, as he helped seal a 5-2 victory at home to the Red Wings. Overall, Smith is 4-2-2 with a 2.83 goals against average and a 0.913 save percentage. This will be Smith’s ninth start of the season with Thomas Greiss as his backup.