Game #78 Preview - Going for it!

Thomas Drance
March 31 2012 11:45AM

There was a time, not too long ago, when the continued mediocrity of the Calgary Flames would have brought me great joy. With a generational talent in Jarome Iginla wasting the twilight of his career on a club poised to finish tenth in the West in perpetuity, it now just makes me sad. 

The Flames decided - yet again - to "go for it" (it being the postseason) this year, despite having a relatively barren cupboard of prospects and absolutely zero shot of making any noise once they got there. To the surprise of no one, they now sit three points out of 8th with only four games remaining. They're not good enough to make the playoffs, and not bad enough to enjoy the full benefits of their suckiness. Who knew there were Flames in purgatory?

To make matters worse, the Flames roster is so well laden with knaves  possessing no-movement clauses that it recalls the Nights Watch who man the great Wall of Westeros. Rebuilding this Flames club is going to be a long-march through the desert, so I understand why they're reluctant to make that choice (I understand it, but still think it's stupid) -  but why must they be so determined to ensure that Jarome Iginla never hoists a Stanley Cup? It just seems cruel.

A more thorough recap of tonight's game, underlying numbers for both clubs and the three keys after the jump.

Broadcast Info

Puckdrop: 7 PM PST

TV: CBC (Hockey Night in Canada). Radio: The Team

Setup

The Flames are all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason already, but the Canucks will still have a chance to twist in the dagger tonight. The Canucks have made minced meat pie out of the Flames over the past several years, probably because Calgary's club doesn't matchup particularly well with Vancouver's team, either in terms of defensive quality of offensive talent.

What the Flames do have, however, is Mika Kipprusoff who is about to finish off his best season in years. Want to know why the Flames sit just three points out of the postseason despite a -27 goal differential? Look no further than Kipper's .938 save percentage with the score-tied. Just obscene!

The Canucks have won five in a row, but most of those wins have been of the low-scoring variety. That changed last night as the new top-line of Lapierre, Burrows and Henrik Sedin led the offensive breakout in the team's 5-2 victory over the desperate Dallas Stars. Will the Canucks' newly found offensive game show its face again tonight, or will it retreat back into Alain Vigneault's turtle shell?

Numbers Game

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, powerplay percentage and goal differential, the table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team's even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Also included are the team's shot% rates, and Fenwick % rates - both overall and in a tied game state. Pay especially close attention to Fenwick % Tied, it's as good a metric for judging team quality as we've got - and was nearly perfect at predicting outcomes in the 2010/11 postseason. Finally, we've included PDO to help contextualize team results.

  Canucks Flames
Record 48-21-9 35-29-15
Venue Record (Home/Away) 24-10-4 14-17-9
Last 10 6-3-1 3-4-3
PP% 20.5% 17.9%
PK% 86.2% 83.9%
Goal Differential +47 -27
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.18 0.86
Shots % 50% 46.7%
Fenwick % 51.3% 46.6%
Shots Tied % 50.6% 48.9%
Fenwick Tied % 52.4% 47.4%
PDO 101.4 100.1

Game Notes

No word yet on Luongo's status, after he injured himself in warmups before last night's game. I'd expect Luongo battles through rather than forcing Schneider to go back to back. For one thing: he doesn't want to "lose his spot" and for another, he's too much of a "team player" to put Schneider in that spot.

Rome was out for the pre-game skate, but I'd be shocked if he plays today. Marc-Andre Gragnani needs only three more games to lose his group 6 status and become an RFA this season, so, safe money says he'll be in the lineup. Will Bieksa return? Could Ballard? Against a non-threat like the Flames - I'd wager no. Expect the Canucks to go with basically the same lineup tonight that they went with yesterday, Luongo excepted. 

The Three Keys

  1. The French Connection Line. The team's post-game comments about Lapierre's offensive breakout were classic. The dressing room apparently serenaded Lapierre with chants of "Guy! Guy! Guy!" while Alex Burrows dropped a Guy Lafleur comparison and Henrik Sedin compared the top lines performance to the Sabres' old "French Connection line." No offense to Henrik Sedin, who is probably the superior talent, but he's nowhere near as fast as Gilbert Perrault was. Be nice to see the top-line continue their feast, as there's been too much famine from the top group lately.

  2. Goaltending. With Bieksa out of the lineup, the team has two players in the top-4 who are suspect when it comes to handling properly "tough" minutes in the NHL. Salo is one of them, and Tanev is the other. As such, whoever the Canucks goaltender is tonight (and the smart money is on Luongo), they're going to need to be sharp. Getting quality goaltending hasn't been an issue for the Canucks since October, but with Bieksa out of the lineup, the need is that much more acute.

  3. Matchups. The Higgins, Hansen, Pahlsson line has been totally dominant, and those fans lamtenting the loss of the Amex line need to check themselves. With Pahlsson's line soaking up the opposition's top-offensive group, and Henrik Sedin's line soaking up the opposition's top-defensive group - Vigneault has had a field day getting Kesler and his line-mates minutes against the opposition's bottom-6. Tonight, that should mean that Kesler gets a steady diet of icetime against the likes of Matt Stajan, which, is great news if you like goal scoring!

Game Day Links

 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Baljit
March 31 2012, 12:50PM
Trash it!
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flames will win tonight

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#2 joeyjoejoejr
March 31 2012, 02:53PM
Trash it!
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+1
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props

Flames are 2-2 head-to-head with the Canucks this season, and yet apparently the Canucks have dominated the Flames? Granted they're on the way to the golf course, granted on paper they're a worse team, but sweet jesus let's be a little more honest about our own team instead of cherry picking factoids that suit us!

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