The Calgary Flames are in desperate need of something positive to fall back on. The Flames finish off a four game road trip this afternoon before returning home for six straight games at the Scotiabank Saddledome. With their losing skid already at seven, Calgary sure could use something good to happen at the end of this trip before coming home for two weeks. We’ll see if the Flames can put an end to this skid today when they pay a visit to the Pittsburgh Penguins (1 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 26-34-4, 7th Pacific Division
The losing streak got stretched to seven on Thursday night as the Flames fell 6-3 at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres. It was a game that fit perfectly in this miserable stretch Calgary has found themselves in of late. Much like a lot of games they’ve lost over the last few weeks, the Flames were right in the mix all night long but made a few key mistakes with the game on the line and eventually saw things slip away. With losses in ten of their last 11 games, this has been one of the worst stretches Calgary has found themselves in in quite some time.
One of the few positives on this road trip has been the play of Hathaway in his first three NHL games. Hathaway picked up his first two points on Thursday night and has been a nice shot in the arm in his limited time thus far. He plays with a lot of jump and a lot of energy and has certainly made a nice impression. I’m not sure how much longer his recall is going to last, but Hathaway has put himself on the radar to compete for a spot next season. He still has lots of work to do on his all around game, specifically defensively, but through three games you have to consider him a positive.
In 11 of Calgary’s last 13 games, they’ve allowed at least one powerplay goal against, which has been a real problem. On the bright side, though, the penalty kill does look like it’s on the verge of turning a corner. Despite allowing a goal against in each game, the Flames did a nice job for the vast majority of the 13 times they found themselves shorthanded in games against the Bruins and the Sabres this week. If they can continue that trend, they’re going to be able to slowly put this miserable penalty killing stretch behind them. If Calgary is going to start putting some better results together, figuring out their PK is going to be a big part of it.
After Jonas Hiller struggled in net against Buffalo, the Flames are going back to Joni Ortio. Still in search of his first NHL win of the season, Ortio has at the very least given his team a chance to win most of the games he’s started since his recall. With Niklas Backstrom likely to get a few games on the team’s upcoming home stand, a nice performance today will likely be very important for Ortio. On the season, Ortio sits 0-6-2 with a 3.33 goals against average and an 0.889 save percentage.
Pittsburgh Penguins 33-22-8, 4th Metropolitan Division
The Penguins are slowly adjusting under new Head Coach Mike Sullivan who will coach his 36th game being the bench today. Since taking over from Mike Johnston in mid-December, Pittsburgh has gone 18-12-5 under their new bench boss and has worked their way back into a somewhat comfortable playoff position. It’s been their last month and a half that has been really impressive, though. Since late January, the Penguins have put together a 12-5-1 record and now hold a five point edge on the Philadelphia Flyers for the second and final Eastern Conference wildcard spot. A win today could see Pittsburgh leapfrog Detroit into the first wildcard position.
The lines above are a fairly good bet as to what we’ll see from the Pens this afternoon. It’s been a fairly beat up group of forwards in Pittsburgh this year and that got worse this week. Winger Kevin Porter is out for the next three months thanks to an ankle injury; he joins Eric Fehr and Beau Bennett on the sidelines. The good news is Fehr and Bennett have resumed skating with the team but a return timeline for either guy is still unknown. The Penguins have recalled Archibald from the American League to take the spot vacated by Porter.
The other lineup question for this afternoon’s contest is newcomer Justin Schultz on the blueline. Pittsburgh gave up a 2016 third round pick to acquire Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers prior to the trade deadline and they’ve got some rehab to do. The marriage between Schultz and the Oilers had soured to the point he was getting booed by his own fans at Rexall Place. We all know Schultz has got high end offensive ability, but his defensive game is clearly in need of some major improvements. We’ll see if Pittsburgh is the place for that to happen.
Marc-Andre Fleury will make his 48th start of the season this afternoon. It’s been a really solid year for Pittsburgh’s number one as he’s likely been their most consistent performer. Even when the team was really struggling in the first few months of the season, Fleury was giving his team a chance to win and continues to do so now. His strong season even put him in the conversation for Team Canada’s roster at the World Cup of Hockey. Despite not being one of the three goaltenders named, Fleury’s season has still be a very strong one. To date, Fleury sits 27-14-6 with a 2.31 goals against average and a 0.923 save percentage.