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Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Colorado Avalanche:
1. CGY2 vs COL1
The key to this game is undoubtedly slowing down Colorado's dynamic top line. Easier said than done, I know. The Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen trio averages 60+ attempts/60, 30+ chances/60, 3.6+ goals/60, and have a ridiculous +15 goal differential at 5v5. They're insane.
Luckily, Calgary is equipped with the necessary personnel to slow them down. 2M + Sam Bennett have played exceptional defense this season. At 5v5, they're allowing 51 attempts, 22 chances, and 2.2 goals per 60. If Mark Giordano is behind them, which is usually the case at home, their numbers are even better. They give up 48 attempts, 19 chances, and 1.5 goals per 60. They're as good as it gets defensively.
They might not blank Colorado's top line but it's realistic to think they'll be slowed. If that's the case, the Flames should have a good chance of winning. The Avalanche really don't have many threats beyond the big line.
2. Extra reps
The Flames rank 2nd in the NHL averaging 4.29 drawn penalties per 60 minutes. They're really good at feeding the power play opportunities to work. Tonight should be no different as they're going up against a very undisciplined Avalanche team. The Avs take 4.15 penalties per 60 minutes, which is the most in the NHL. Playing in the latter half of a road back-to-back probably not going to do them any favors in that regard, either. Calgary's power play should get plenty of run. They just need to take advantage.
3. James Neal
The good news: Neal ranks 3rd on the Flames with 20 scoring chances over the last seven games. He is generating opportunities on a pretty consistent basis right now.
The bad news: Neal only converted on one of the chances and ranks last on the team with a 42.62 Corsi For% during that span. If he's not scoring, he is borderline useless and he still isn't scoring. Reach your own conclusions on that one.
Still, you have to believe luck will change and he'll be able to contribute *something* sooner than later. Perhaps a game against a shallow, undisciplined Avalanche team is what he needs to take a step forward.
4. A potential goaltending duel
Among 41 eligible goaltenders, David Rittich ranks 3rd with a .937 save percentage at 5v5. Semyon Varlamov isn't too far down the totem pole sitting 14th with a .925 save percentage – ahead of guys like Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Special teams could make their lives difficult – both teams draw a lot of penalties and have more than enough star power to take advantage – but these guys have the talent to turn this into a low scoring affair.
5. Offense from the defense
Over the last 10 games, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, and Ryan Graves are all averaging better than 13 attempts and five chances per 60. Small sample size, of course, but these guys have been very involved and are creating a lot of offense. Calgary's forwards will need to be very aware of them activating and jumping into the play. If they get caught asleep at the wheel, they'll pay for it.
Here are the projected lineups:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Sam Bennett
Michael Frolik - Mark Jankowski - James Neal
Garnet Hathaway - Derek Ryan - Austin Czarnik
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson
Colorado (via dailyfaceoff.com)
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - Sheldon Dries - Logan O'Connor
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Ryan Graves - Patrik Nemeth
Puck drop is just after 9:30 eastern and can be seen on SNW and ALT.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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