Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell
Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Florida Panthers:
1. Line matching
Bill Peters somewhat loosely matched lines vs Colorado1. This led to a handful of shifts where Johnny Gaudreau's line went toe-to-toe with perhaps the league's best offensive trio. They were exposed defensively. While Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Denis Malgin are not the same caliber, they are still very dangerous and, in my opinion, Florida's most threatening offensive line. I think Peters and his staff should be more aggressive matching 3M vs the top line than he was last time out. Even if the confidence in the Gaudreau line is there, which would be understandable, you should still want to use last change to your advantage and put them in the possible situation to produce.
2. A big goaltending edge
David Rittich has provided the Flames with something they haven't had in a long time: elite goaltending. Yes, elite. On the year, Rittich is tied with John Gibson for 3rd in the NHL with a .936 save percentage at 5v5. Only Pekka Rinne and Jaroslav Halak have stopped pucks at a higher clip.
Things aren't so good at the other end of the ice. The expected starter, Roberto Luongo, is having a horrendous season. He owns a .895 save percentage at 5v5, which ranks him last among 50 eligible goaltenders. Yes, even below Mike Smith (.896 SV%). The Flames have a few edges in this game but none bigger than between the pipes.
Florida's power play has been lethal this season. They're tied with Boston for 3rd in PP goals and are one of nine teams averaging better than 100 shot attempts/60. Calgary's underlyings aren't as good but they a) draw a lot of penalties and; b) score a lot of power play goals, sitting 6th with 34.
Both teams are good on the PK. With that said, these are not the power plays you want to test by parading to the box.
4. Rolling four lines
For the first time in a while (all season?), the Flames are rolling four lines of skill players. Yes, Garnet Hathaway – he of 5 points and a team-worst 40.65 SCF% – is finally sitting.
With all due respect to Hathaway, who is *miles* better than any of us can or ever will be, he's simply not effective by NHL standards. He does more harm than good and significantly decreases the chances depth guys like Derek Ryan, Austin Czarnik, Andrew Mangiapane, etc. can find success.
I'm really interested to see how the Flames look without anchors like that in their lineup. If they have a full lineup of guys pulling in the right direction, it makes them even more of a threat. Here's hoping Peters likes what he sees and keeps prioritizing skill over grit, even with depth spots.
5. Michael Frolik
Since returning to the lineup, Frolik ranks 1st on the team averaging 16.57 shot attempts/60 to go along with a very respectable 1.91 points/60. He is creating a lot of offense and has taken advantage of extra minutes whenever they've come to him. I think he is making a great case to stay on the 2nd line or, at the very least, play on the 3rd.
Here are the projected lineups:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - James Neal
Andrew Mangiapane - Derek Ryan - Austin Czarnik
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson
Florida (via dailyfaceoff.com)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sasha Barkov - Denis Malgin
Evgenii Dadonov - Jared McCann - Mike Hoffman
Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Troy Brouwer
Michael Haley - Juho Lammikko - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Bogdan Kiselevich - Mackenzie Weegar
Puck drop is just after 9:00 eastern and can be seen on SNW and FS-F.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
Rittich, Flames steal two points from Avalanche
Hotstove: midseason Norris Trophy picks
Hotstove: midseason Hart Trophy picks
Smith's struggles continue in loss to Bruins
Predicting the Pacific Division standings