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Here are five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Colorado Avalanche:
1. A true measuring stick
The Flames are suddenly scorching hot. Their schedule has softened up of late and they’ve taken full advantage going 5-0-1, including 4-0-0 under new head coach Geoff Ward. Perhaps most importantly is they’re actually starting to play well. They’ve controlled ~54% of the 5v5 scoring chances with Ward behind the bench. That’s a big step up from ~50% in 27 games with Bill Peters running the ship.
They’ve looked faster, more dynamic, and the players really seem to be getting their confidence back. Again, though, the games haven’t been against the best opponents. Tonight is a big step up.
The Avalanche have dealt with as many key injuries as anyone and they’re still *checks notes* 3rd in the NHL with 19 wins. They have the best 5v5 goal differential in the league, too. They’re damn good.
One game is one game but I’m really interested to see how the Flames fare tonight. Win or lose, it’d be nice to see Calgary give Colorado a run for their money.
2. Getting to the slot
Calgary has played two games since having a few days off to practice and implement systematic changes. They’ve out-chanced their opponents 57-48 and made a habit of consistently breaking the defense down to generate quality looks in the slot.
While Colorado is a good team overall, I think Calgary’s chances of doing so again tonight. The Avs have struggled defensively over the last 10 games, ranking 28th in attempts against and bottom-10 in chances + high-danger chances against on a per 60 minute basis.
3. An active defense
One thing the Avalanche like to do is get their defenders up in the play. If there is an open lane, or a backdoor play to be made, they will activate each and every time.
That style bears itself out in the numbers.
Super rookie Cale Makar ranks 15th among defensemen in chances/60 (UPDATE: Makar likely OUT
). Ryan Graves isn’t far behind in 28th, and Nikita Zadorov surprisingly slots 61st.
Sam Girard isn’t afraid to activate, either, although he’s much more likely to make a pass than take a chance for himself.
At any rate, the forwards must be very aware. If they cheat out of the zone or get caught asleep at the wheel and lose their man, they will pay for it.
4. A quality start
The Avalanche rank 1st in goals/60 at 5v5 and 2nd – behind only the Lightning – across all game states. This despite playing 16 games without Gabriel Landeskog, 16 games without Mikko Rantanen, a few games without Andre Burakovsky and...you get the point. We’re probably looking at them as the benchmark of all offenses if they had better health.
Though Calgary’s defense has been competent, especially of late, they will have a helluva time trying to silence Colorado's lethal attack. David Rittich is going to see his share of quality chances and from high-end players at that. He must be on his game for the Flames to have a real shot.
5. Making strides
Nine forwards have logged 40+ minutes at 5v5 since Geoff Ward took over behind the bench. Among them, Dube ranks 1st in points per minute and only Johnny Gaudreau has generated high-danger chances at a higher clip. Dube leads that group of forwards with a plus-4 goal differential as well. We’re looking at a real small sample size, of course, but Dube is really playing well right now and showing he’s worthy of a full-time spot – not just in the lineup, but inside the top-9. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact in this one.
Here are the projected lineups:
Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane
Sean Monahan - Mikael Backlund - Dillon Dube
Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Johnny Gaudreau
Tobias Rieder - Mark Jankowski/Zac Rinaldo - Michael Frolik
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson
Colorado (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Joonas Donskoi - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog - J.T. Compher - Andre Burakovsky
Valeri Nichushkin - P.E. Bellemare - Matt Nieto
Vladislav Kamenev - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Sam Girard - Nikita Zaitsev
Cale Makar** - Ryan Graves
Mark Barberio - Ian Cole
**left previous game with an injury and is not on ice for morning skate
Puck drop is just after 9:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on SNW and ALT.
Numbers via naturalstattrick.com
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