With a seven game losing skid behind them, the Calgary Flames open up their final true home stand of the season tonight and it’s a long one. Calgary will play their next six games on home ice before finishing the season with eight of 11 on the road. With the postseason an unrealistic proposition, the Flames will look to give their fans something to cheer about in this final stretch of the season. Tonight they’ll try to mess with the playoff plans of a playoff opponent as the Flames play host to the San Jose Sharks (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 27-34-4, 7th Pacific Division
Joni Ortio finally has the monkey off his back. The Flames will turn to Ortio in net again tonight after finally picking up his first NHL win of the season on Saturday afternoon. Ortio made 29 saves and looked very solid in a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins two days ago and saw his record improve to 1-6-2 at the NHL level this season. Since his recall two weeks ago, Ortio has played some pretty good hockey and was finally rewarded with the desired result against the Penguins. I’m curious to see if the team will give Ortio a run of starts or if we’ll see Jonas Hilelr and/or Niklas Backstrom get some playing time during this home stand. Ortio starts tonight, though, looking to improve on his 3.16 goals against average and 0.895 save percentage.
It has been quite the stretch lately for Backlund and he put an exclamation point on things in Pittsburgh. Backlund was by far Calgary’s best player against the Penguins and finished with a pair of points including the game winning goal. With 12 points in his last 15 games, Backlund is one of his better offensive grooves; he has eight of his 13 goals this season over that span. We all know how useful Backlund is as a two-way centre, but the way he’s creating offensively makes him a very dangerous player right now. We’ll see if he can keep that up during this stretch of home games.
The Flames got some good news today when it comes to defenceman Jakub Nakladal. The first year NHLer took a stick to the eye during Saturday’s win in Pittsburgh and it looked scary at the time. While Nakladal won’t play tonight, he’s only being kept out for precautionary reasons. As such, Calgary has recalled Wotherspoon from Stockton of the American League on an emergency basis. Wotherspoon will play tonight after impressing on a six game stint with the team earlier this season.
Tonight will also be game 18 of Dennis Wideman’s 20 game suspension as we await news on his appeal. Wideman completed phase two of the appeal process more than a week ago and we’re expecting a ruling from the independent arbiter at some point this week. Regardless of what the arbiter’s decision is, Wideman will be eligible to return one week from today when the Flames play host to the St. Louis Blues. Perhaps we’ll see his suspension reduced, but even so, the amount of time he’s already missed will make any reduction negligible. At this point, Wideman is hoping to recoup the money he has forfeited during this suspension and is also looking to clear his name. Stay tuned.
San Jose Sharks 35-23-6, 3rd Pacific Division
The calendar year of 2016 has been a good one to the Sharks. Since January 9th, San Jose has gone an impressive 17-5-4 which has vaulted them into third spot in the Pacific and very much in the hunt for the division lead. After a 4-2 loss in Vancouver on Saturday, the Sharks enter action tonight four points back of Los Angeles for second in the division and trail the red hot Ducks by six points. It’s going to be an interesting fight to the finish in the Pacific and as it stands right now, San Jose is going to be a very large factor.
With five players named to preliminary rosters last week, the Sharks are going to be very represented in September’s World Cup of Hockey. Perhaps the least surprising name called was Pavelski’s as he was almost a guarantee to be on Team USA’s initial list of 16. Similarly, seeing Vlasic on Canada’s preliminary list wasn’t a surprise knowing what he did at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Rounding out the list are Hertl and Polak for the Czech Republic and Donskoi for Finland. Donskoi’s name was the most surprising of the five, but the 23-year-old winger has been very good in his first NHL season. With ten goals and 27 points, Donskoi has been able to play up and down the lineup and impressed at last year’s World Championships.
After James Reimer made his Sharks debut on Saturday night in Vancouver, the team will go back to Martin Jones between the pipes tonight. San Jose acquired Reimer from the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the trade deadline to give themselves a decent option behind Jones. Prior to Reimer’s debut with the team, Jones had started ten consecutive games and 18 of 19, so having someone reliable to spell him off down the stretch was definitely important. On the season, Jones sits 32-17-4 with a 2.32 goals against average and a 0.917 save percentage.