Over the last number of weeks, the Calgary Flames have done a very nice job of taking points from teams below them in the standings. What they haven’t done as good a job at, however, is getting the job done against teams closer to the NHL’s upper echelon. In Calgary’s last four games against opponents in that category, they’ve lost somewhat convincingly so they’ll try and stop that trend tonight. After a 2-0 loss in Winnipeg on Monday, the Flames return home tonight for a date with the San Jose Sharks (7:30 pm, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 22-19-2, 4th Pacific Division
The Flames are coming off a 2-0 setback in Winnipeg a couple nights ago in only their second shutout loss of the season. It was tough sledding all night for Calgary as they managed to generate just 14 scoring chances and just 11 at even strength. The Jets did a great job of taking away the middle of the ice and making life difficult on the Flames once they were in the offensive zone. In other games similar to Monday’s this season, Calgary has been able to use their powerplay to make up for a lack of five-on-five offence. Against Winnipeg, however, the Flames went 0/3 with the man advantage and failed to score a powerplay goal for only the fourth time in their last 17 games.
Calgary is sending just one player to the All Star Game in Los Angeles later this month and that’s their leading scorer Gaudreau. In a format like the NHL has now for their All Star showcase, sending Gaudreau was a no-brainer knowing the type of skill he possesses. That said, you could make a very strong argument Backlund has been this team’s MVP this season and would have been a very deserving All Star candidate as well. The problem for Backlund in this case is much of what he does doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet. That said, it’s still valid to point out just how good he’s been this season.
Calgary is going with the same lineup tonight as they went with in Monday’s game against Winnipeg. That means Brett Kulak will sit out for a second straight game since being recalled from Stockton of the American Hockey League while Freddie Hamilton will sit out as a healthy scratch up front. Injured forward Troy Brouwer joined the Flames for morning skate for the first time since breaking his finger on December 23rd against the Vancouver Canucks. Head coach Glen Gulutzan says Brouwer is “really close” to returning and should be back in the lineup within the next week.
Chad Johnson makes his third straight start between the pipes tonight after his 25 save performance against the Jets on Monday. Johnson has lost five of his last six starts in net despite giving his team a chance to win each and every night. With a back-to-back coming up this weekend against New Jersey and then in Edmonton, we’ll probably see Brian Elliott at least once over the weekend. Johnson sits 14-9-1 this season with a 2.27 goals against average and a 0.922 save percentage.
San Jose Sharks 25-14-2, 1st Pacific Division
The Sharks are coming off a 5-3 victory in Edmonton last night to push their record 11 games above the .500 mark and to move them three points clear of the Oilers in the Pacific Division standings. San Jose has put together quite the run dating back to mid-December and enter action tonight with wins in ten of their last 14 games; they’ve gone 10-3-1 in that stretch. Thanks to a so-so start to the season, however, the Sharks don’t have much breathing room atop the Pacific. Anaheim’s win over Dallas last night kept pace with San Jose at 52 points while the latter’s lead is just three points on Edmonton and six on Calgary.
The Sharks are sending three players to the All Star Game later this month with their leading scorer Burns leading the way. Coming off a career season last year, Burns has 42 points in 41 games and is actually on pace to finish with more points than the 75 he put up last year. Burns will be joined by Pavelski and goaltender Martin Jones in Los Angeles, the latter making his first ever All Star appearance. Pavelski’s nod was a pretty easy one, too, as he sits second to only Burns on the team with 15 goals this season.
With San Jose not skating this morning, there’s no word on who starts in net tonight. Martin Jones picked up the win in Edmonton yesterday but with the Sharks playing on back-to-back nights, the feel is Aaron Dell will get the start tonight. On the year, Dell sits 4-1-0 with a 1.78 goals against average and a 0.936 save percentage.