The Flames are coming off an incredible 2018-19 season where they earned the second-highest point total in franchise history (107), thanks to a 50-25-7 record, a staggering +64 in the goals for/against column, and 288 overall snipes that made the squad as one of the NHL's preeminent offensive powerhouses. All of it helped the Flames win their first division title in 13 years, and their first regular-season conference banner in nearly three decades.
Johnny Gaudreau led the Flames in scoring, notching career highs in goals (36), points (99) and plus/minus (+18), while four others topped the team charts with 70-plus points, including captain and 2018-19 Norris Trophy-winner, Mark Giordano. 'Gio' finished the year second among defencemen with 17 goals and 74 points in 78 regular-season games, had a league-leading four short-handed markers, 21 powerplay points and a league-best +39 rating, all while logging more minutes (1,890:39 or 24:14 per game) than any other Flame.
David Rittich enters the new season as the team's go-to guy between the pipes after signing a two-year, $5.5 million contract in the off-season. The 27-year-old burst onto the scene and finished with a 27-9-5 record last year, along with a .911 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average, despite playing the last half of the season with a nagging knee injury. Rittich will get the start in goal tonight.
While the Flames, who went 4-3-1 in the pre-season, return largely the same group from last year, two players - former Edmonton Oilers Milan Lucicand Cam Talbot - will make their Flames debuts tonight. Tobias Rieder, meanwhile, will have to wait to make his first appearance in red and black. He'll be odd-man out, unless Mikael Backlund is unable to play due to a minor lower-body injury suffered in Saturday's pre-season finale. Backlund did practice on Wednesday and was deemed "close," according to head coach Bill Peters.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen had colossal, career-high numbers last year, led by MacKinnon, whose 99 points (41G, 58A) tied Gaudreau for seventh, league-wide. Rantanen, meanwhile, had 87 points (31G, 56A), despite the missing the final eight games of the season, and was a monster in the playoffs, pacing the Avalanche with 14 points (6G, 8A) in 12 games.
The Avs made several off-season moves to bolster an already lethal group offensively. The biggest, and certainly most newsworthy, summertime acquisition came on Jul. 1 when they traded for forward Nazem Kadri and defenceman Calle Rosen, along with a third-round pick in the 2010 Draft for stud blueliner Tyson Barrie, forward Alexander Kerfoot and a late-round choice in that same draft. Kadri, who had 44 points (16G, 28A) last year after scoring 32 goals, alone, in each of the previous two seasons, will fill a void at second-line centre. Barrie's big ticket, along with the emergence of young Samuel Girard and Cale Makar on D, allowed the Avs to make this deal without much of an impact on the backend.
The Avs acquired forward Andre Burakovsky in a trade with the Washington Capitals, and signed free-agent forwards Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on Jul. 1 as well.
Philipp Grubauer will get the start in goal tonight. The 27-year-old is coming off a career season, going 18-9-5, and winning eight of his final 11 regular-season tilts after replacing Semyon Varlamov in the starter's net. Grubauer had a .917 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average in the regular season, but was especially red hot in the playoffs, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA. Varlamov, meanwhile, is no longer in the picture, signing a four-year contract with the New York Islanders on Jul. 1. Pavel Francouz is Colorado's new backup.
Injury report: Defenceman Ian Cole (hip surgery) will not be available until December.
The Flames took all three regular-season meetings against the Avs last year, outscoring their Central Division counterparts 14-10. Mark Giordano led the Flames in head-to-head scoring, recording seven points (1G, 6A) in two games alone to pace the team offensively. Johnny Gaudreau finished not far behind with four points in three games, including the overtime winner in a 3-2 decision on Oct. 13, 2018 at the Pepsi Center.
It was a different story in the playoffs, however, as the Avalanche won four straight in their first-round matchup to eliminate the Flames in five games. … This is the first of three meetings between these two teams this year. The Flames host the Avs on Nov. 19 in the teams' lone matchup at the Scotiabank Saddledome before finishing off the season series on Dec. 9 in the Mile High City.
THIS:Sean Monahan began the 2018-19 season with a goal in each of his first three games (4-1-5), tying Willi Plett (1977-78) and Kent Nilsson (1979-80) for the second-longest season-opening goal streak in franchise history behind Gary Roberts (5 GP in 1989-90). Plett and Nilsson each achieved the feat while the club was based in Atlanta. … THAT:Johnny Gaudreau ranks among the Top 10 in the NHL in assists (123; 6th) and points (183; 9th) over the past two seasons. 'Johnny Hockey' also ranks 10th in the NHL in assists (254) since 2014-15, his first full campaign. … THE OTHER: Head coach of the Avalanche, Jerad Bednar, got his start in the AHL as an assistant coach for the Abbotsford Heat, which was then - in 2009-10 - the Flames' top affiliate.
Lucic will play on the left side with Derek Ryan in the middle and Sam Bennett on the opposite flank. Look for No. 17 to play a net-front role on the second powerplay unit as well, joining Mikael Backlund , Austin Czarnik, Rasmus Andersson and TJ Brodie.
Avalanche - Joonas Donskoi
The 27-year-old scored a four-year contract with the Avalanche in the off-season after spending the past four years with the San Jose Sharks. He's coming off a career campaign, recording 37 points (14G, 23A) in 80 games, and will start the 2019-20 campaign on a line with JT Compher and his former Sharks teammate, Matt Nieto.