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Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5:
1. Looking for a spark
In an effort to try and get Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan going, Bill Peters has elected to put Sam Bennett – someone whose been full of energy thus far – on the top line. Their results, albeit over a small sample, were not great this season, however, they have a 55.41 Corsi For% and 53.13 Scoring Chance For% in a little over 100 minutes dating back to last season. I don't know if this is the optimal combination, but it's something different and it was clear something needed to be changed. We'll see if they answer the bell.
2. Careful pressing
I think the Flames will come out with a ton of energy and be really aggressive to try and put the Avalanche on their heels – something that hasn't happened thus far. The one thing they'll have to be careful with is not being over the top with pinches, and ensuring there's a forward back if a defender does activate. The Avalanche are deadly on the counter-attack. The last thing the Flames can afford to do is give Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and some of their puck-moving defenders extra time and space to generate speed and offense off the rush. They'll make you pay.
It took four sub-par performances but James Neal has finally been pulled from the lineup. He generated little offense and his lack of quickness, and ability to contribute through the neutral zone, seemed to really hurt the 3rd line. With Frolik, who excels in that area, dropping down and Czarnik entering the lineup, I think we can expect a more dangerous effort from that line. The Flames certainly need it because right now it is top-6 or bust, and they haven't been able to get the job done.
4. Holding the fort
The Avalanche have gotten whatever looks they've wanted all series long. They really seem to have the Flames figured out. While I do like the changes Bill Peters and co. made, I doubt the Avs will go from creating every shift to generating chances sparingly. I think Mike Smith will see his share of rubber, and he'll need to be on his game once again. If he puts up a bit of a stinker, which would be understandable given the workload he's handling right now as a 37-year-old, the Flames will probably be cleaning out their lockers in a couple of days. They need Smith to be sharp.
5. Special teams
40. That's the number of power plays that have been handed out through just four games. Even in a Game 4 where the refs let a *ton* go and 'put the whistles away', they still called seven minors. I once again expect plenty of special teams play in this one. If the first few games are any indication, the Flames will need to win that battle because Nathan MacKinnon and his Avs have fed the Flames their lunch at 5v5.
Here are the projected lineups:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Sam Bennett
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Elias Lindholm
Michael Frolik - Mark Jankowski - Austin Czarnik
Andrew Mangiapane - Derek Ryan - Garnet Hathaway
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Juuso Valimaki - Rasmus Andersson
Colorado (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto - J.T. Compher - Matt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque - Tyson Jost - Sven Andrighetto
Ian Cole - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Cale Makar
Puck drop is just after 10:00 eastern.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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