Flames: 6-11-1, 13 points, 6th in Pacific, 13th in West, 28th in NHL
Blackhawks: 9-7-1, 19 points, 5th in Central, 6th in West, 13th in NHL
Following a mass exodus of players and a Stanley Cup hangover, the Blackhawks have looked mediocre to start this year, and the stats bear that out. 16th in Goals For and 12th in goals against, 15th ranked PP, 14th ranked PK. They are a solid team, but not nearly as dominant as years past. However, Patrick Kane is having a superb season with 26 points in 17 games, tying him with Tyler Seguin for the NHL scoring lead. Artemi Panarin has impressed in his rookie campaign with 17 points, ranking 2nd on the Blackhawks behind Kane. They needed that injection of skilled youth after the loss of Brandon Saad in the off-season, and Marian Hossa clearly slowing down (just 5 points in 14 games). It doesn't help that they lost Duncan Keith for an extended period of time after surgery on his knee meniscus, but somehow miraculously he made an early return to the lineup last night...just in time for us to face him. This is a team that has enough talent to be in every game, and with Quenneville directing traffic they always play a strong game at both ends of the rink.
The Flames are coming off a win that should build confidence in a group of players who have struggled to figure it out this year. Despite giving up a 2 goal lead in the 3rd period, the Flames won in overtime yet again on the back of a strong game by Sean Monahan. Just about everyone played fairly well in the game against the Caps which was encouraging after a setback in Tampa Bay where they were the better team and deserved a better fate. The defensive game is getting better despite some clear lapses in coverage, and Ramo is really rounding into form. I've said before that Ramo goes on extended streaks both ways. When he loses his game you can't count on him for weeks at a time. When he's on his game, he can single-handedly win games for several weeks at a time. Here's hoping he's about to go on one of his hot streaks to get this team back in playoff contention.
I said during the last game that they were reminding me of the Flames of last year, just in the way the flow of the game goes and how they control the play. Confidence is still lacking, and there are parts of the game that are still sloppy, but they're rounding into form.......finally. The 'hawks will be a good test, as they are always a team that is well prepared. Being that they played a hard fought contest with the Blues just last night gives the Flames a slight advantage, but you know Quenneville won't accept fatigue as an excuse. Here's hoping the Flames are ready for puck drop and play a complete game tonight to end the trip at .500.
Lines are based on yesterday's practice/game.
Go Flames Go!!!!!!