Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell
Here are four things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Montreal Canadiens:
1. Reclaiming the net
David Rittich and Cam Talbot have mostly rotated in recent weeks. When that trend’s been broken, Talbot has been the beneficiary – and understandably so. He’s the guy with a .922 save percentage on the season and four straight victories to his name.
Rittich, meanwhile, has only won one of his last three starts and has conceded at least three goals in seven of his last 10 games.
A single quality showing isn’t going to make Geoff Ward completely abandon Talbot, nor should it, but if Rittich doesn’t get back on track sooner than later he might get stuck in the 1B role. This is a big game for him.
2. Living in the danger zone
Montreal’s penalty kill is not good. Their defensive numbers are poor across the board. In particular, they really have a hard time limiting Grade A looks around the paint. Carey Price hasn’t fared overly well at stopping those looks either. It’s quite problematic.
Calgary has a few players that could really benefit from these issues but none more so than Matthew Tkachuk. He leads the Flames in high-danger looks on the power play and sits 13th across the entire NHL since the beginning of 2018-19. He lives around the net and is flat-out elite in that area.
If Montreal runs into penalty trouble, I think Tkachuk is the best bet to really make them pay.
3. Be aware
Montreal struggles to score goals at the best of times. Now their top shot+chance generator, and finisher, Brendan Gallagher is out of the lineup. I think the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk will help – he can still shoot, as he showed us while scoring an OT winner the other night – but there really isn’t much to be concerned about up front in terms of creating goals. The forwards need some help.
I think Victor Mete and Jeff Petry, in particular, are going to use their plus-skating ability and activate every chance they get. Beyond those two, I also expect Montreal’s forwards to feed Shea Weber one-timers whenever he’s given an ounce of space to work with.
Calgary’s forwards need to be on their toes and aware of Montreal defenders trying to get involved.
4. Heating up
Johnny Gaudreau has had a rather up and down season by his standards. He’s really trending in the right direction now, though. Gaudreau has eight points over his last six games and leads Flames forwards in shots+shot attempts during that time. His on-ice numbers are absolutely fantastic, too, as he owns a 61.71 CF% and 64.67 xGF% over this stretch.
It’s not just the numbers that are promising. He looks fantastic by the eye. No. 13 is starting to make some of the confident ‘wow’ plays where he somehow turns a dead-end situation into a scoring chance, which makes him borderline unstoppable.
Montreal’s going to have their hands full slowing him down, especially without their best two-way player (Gallagher) in the lineup.
Here are the projected lineups:
Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Mikael Backlund
Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Dillon Dube
Zac Rinaldo - Tobias Rieder - Sam Bennett
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson
Montreal (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Tomas Tatar - Philipp Danault - Ilya Kovalchuk
Artturi Lehkonen - Max Domi - Nick Suzuki
Ryan Poehling - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Nick Cousins
Jordan Weal - Nate Thompson - Dale Weise
Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber
Marco Scandella - Jeff Petry
Victor Mete - Cale Fleury
Puck drop is just after 7 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on SNW, TSN2, and RDS.
Numbers via naturalstattrick.com
Flames 4, Oilers 3: Kassian hands Calgary 1st place
All aboard the Tyler Toffoli train
Flames sign Rasmus Andersson to long-term extension
My choices for Calgary’s three stars of the month in December
Midseason Vezina Trophy picks
Midseason Norris Trophy picks
Midseason Hart Trophy picks