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5 THINGS - FLAMES @ MAPLE LEAFS

Flames look to get back in the win column as eastern swing continues in T.O.

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

FLAMES (25-18-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (25-16-6)

5 p.m. MT | TV: Sportsnet West | RADIO: Sportsnet 960 The FAN

2019-20 Season Series: 1-0-0

 

Leading Scorers:

Flames:

Points - Matthew Tkachuk (38)
Goals - Elias Lindholm (20)

Maple Leafs:

Points - Auston Matthews (57)
Goals - Matthews (34)

Special Teams:

Flames:

PP - 19.1% (20th) / PK - 83.2% (4th)

Maple Leafs:

PP - 24.0% (5th) / PK - 75.7% (25th)

Advanced Stats:

Flames:

Shot Attempts: 50.32% (12th)
High-Danger Chances: 49.53% (19th)

Maple Leafs:

Shot Attempts: 52.66% (6th)
High-Danger Chances: 50.71% (12th)

 

Video: Brendan Parker tees up tonight's tilt

 


1. US

The Flames are looking to get back in the win column after suffering a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

David Rittich - who received some good news Wednesday and was added to the Pacific Division roster for the upcoming NHL All-Star Game - had a sensational outing, stopping 35 pucks in his return after backing up the previous four.

The 27-year-old is now 18-11-5 on the year, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against average. He will replace the injured Arizona Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper at the festivities in St. Louis next week.

"This means a lot for me," Rittich said. "Right now, I can kind of say I'm one of the best players in the world.

"It's going to be huge for me and it for sure can help me, for my next steps in my career."

 

Video: David Rittich on his NHL All-Star nod

 

As good as Rittich and Cam Talbot have been lately, interim head coach Geoff Ward would prefer his team show better "emotional engagement" from the start of games and make life easier on his goaltenders.

"Twice this has happened to us right after an emotional game where we come out, we come out flat the next game," he said following Monday's loss. "It's the time of the year where we can't do that. We got out-battled, out-raced, out-competed - out-worked.

"Right from the opening faceoff.

"It took us some time to try and claw our way back into the hockey game. But we were flat tonight and at this time of year, you can't be."

The Flames, who came off an emotional victory on Saturday in the Battle of Alberta, hopped on a plane the very next morning and flew four-and-a-half hours to Montreal, where it was already dark upon arrival.

Milan Lucic - a longtime vet, and certainly no stranger to some of the NHL's fiercest rivalries - suggested the Flames had trouble turning the page, especially with all the bulletin-board talk that followed on both ends of the QEII.

But now, having addressed that and re-charging the batteries with a day off on Tuesday, the Flames got back to work with a solid practice on Wednesday and are fully focused on the task at hand.

"If you get thinking too far ahead, or you dwell on the past, you're lost - you're defeated," Zac Rinaldo said following a skate at Scotiabank Arena. "If you keep your mind on the present, one step at a step - literally one step at a time, every minute, every hour - then you're in good spirits mentally and physically. ... That's not good for anybody.

"Today's practice was a good skating practice. I thought we handled it very well, we worked hard, and we're ready for tomorrow."

 

Video: Matthew Tkachuk on head-to-head matchup with Matthews

 

2. THEM

The Maple Leafs ended a three-game slide with a 7-4 win over the suddenly surging New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. This, after yielding a season-high eight goals in a blowout loss to the Florida Panthers less than 48 hours earlier.

On this night, though, the Buds were able to out-score their mistakes and overcome some leaky goaltending to pick up the W.

The first-ever three-goal game from Devils forward Blake Coleman put Toronto's big, third-period lead in peril. That is, until Auston Matthews checked in and put the finishing touches on a hat trick of his own - his first three-goal game since hanging four on the Ottawa Senators during his 2016 NHL debut - and lead his club to victory.

The star centre's hat-trick showing followed more than 1,000 days, 259 regular-season games, and 27 consecutive two-goal efforts without one. As a result, Matthews is now only two goals back of David Pastrnak for the NHL lead, with one game in hand. Incredibly, 27 of his 34 strikes have come at home - a stretch of only 23 games, giving him an average of 1.2 per game this year at Scotiabank Arena.

"My linemates made some unbelievable plays to get me the puck tonight, so I just tried to put it in," Matthews told Dave McCarthy of NHL.com. "Overall, we wanted to have a good bounce-back game. There was a bit of a lull in the second period, some stuff we'd like to clean up and do better, but all in all, nice to get back in the win column."

The game was Toronto's first game without defenceman Morgan Rielly, who will miss the next eight weeks with a fractured foot.

Rielly had been hampered by an undisclosed lower-body injury all season, but was just returning to full health before blocking a shot in Sunday's loss to the Panthers.

The 25-year-old joins fellow blueliner Jake Muzzin in the recovery ward after the latter suffered a similar injury in late December, and is officially week-to-week.

With Rielly out long-term, the Leafs have recalled 2018 first-round pick Rasmus Sandin from their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

Sandin, who made the big club out of camp but was later assigned to the Marlies, is coming off an excellent showing for the Swedes at the World Junior Championship.

The 19-year-old had two assists and played 16:12 - including 1:53 on the powerplay - in Tuesday's victory.

"I feel confident out there, I feel like I know all the guys a little bit more, too, so that helps," Sandin told McCarthy. "It's great when those two shots result in goals. Those shots weren't the hardest, but they got a stick on it and that helped our team."

 

Video: Tavares and Spezza comment on the Flames

 

3. US VS. THEM

In their first meeting of the season only five weeks ago, the Flames doubled up the Leafs 4-2 on the strength of a two-and-a-half minute span early in the third period that saw the homeside sink three on Frederik Andersen.

Johnny Gaudreau struck twice, the now-departed Michael Frolik potted the other, and David Rittich made 32 saves in the victory.

John Tavares and Mitch Marner each had a goal and an assist for the visitors.

The Flames are 5-4-0-1 in their last 10 regular-season meetings and hold an all-time record of 64-59-12-2 against the Buds, including a 21-34-7-2 mark on the road.

 

Video: TOR@CGY: Gaudreau, Frolik score three quick goals

 

4. THIS, THAT & THE OTHER

THIS: The Flames are playing some of their best hockey away from the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome, posting an 8-2-1 record in their last 11 road tilts dating back to Nov. 23. A big reason for this has been the play of their goaltenders, with the team surrendering the second-fewest number of goals on the road in that span with 25, or an average of 2.3 per game. The Flames also have the sixth-best powerplay on the road in that same stretch, converting on 26.7% of their chances. … THAT: Maple Leafs forward William Nylander was born in Calgary, and his father, Michael, played for the Flames from 1997 to the fall of '99. The eldest Nylander appeared in a total of 64 games, potting 15 goals and adding 26 helpers for 41 points with in the Flaming C. … THE OTHER: The Flames have a number of players either Toronto or the greater Toronto area (GTA) suiting up in tonight's contest. From T.O.: Mark Giordano and Andrew Mangiapane : From the GTA: Sam Bennett (Holland Landing), Sean Monahan (Brampton) and Zac Rinaldo (Mississauga). In all, the Flames have eight Ontarians on the roster.

 

Video: "I like our focus"

 

5. PLAYERS TO WATCH

Flames - C Elias Lindholm

Last year when the Flames picked up a 3-1 victory in the Big Smoke, Lindholm put the team on his back. He and Sean Monahan led the team with a goal and an assist, while Lindholm finished with the outright lead in shots with a clean half-dozen on target.

More recently, the pivot has done more of the same, leading the Flames in overall goal-scoring with 20, including a pair of two-goal efforts over the last four games. And, despite being shut out by the Habs the other night, he was still very much engaged, tying Johnny Gaudreau with five tries on the dialed-in Montreal puck-stopper, Carey Price.

Maple Leafs - LD Travis Dermott

With Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin out long-term, the 23-year-old has taken over the left side on the team's No. 1 D pair. Dermott played a season-high 21:24 on Tuesday, and was joined by the 6-foot-4, 210-lb. Justin Holl in a role (mostly) unfamiliar to both.

Dermott did well - albeit, with plenty of offensive- and neutral-zone starts - against the Devils' top line of Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, but struggled mightily against the Blake Coleman line. In six minutes of even-strength ice time vs. Coleman (the second-most among his forward matchups), Dermott had only a 27.8% split of the shot attempts, and was victimized for two of Coleman's three goals in the process.

It'll be interesting to see how Dermott responds, and how Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe handles the blueliner's matchups against the Flames.

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