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5 THINGS - FLAMES VS. CANADIENS

Flames - wearing their Heritage Classic retro whites - look to get back in the win column tonight vs. the Habs

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

FLAMES (18-14-4) vs. CANADIENS (16-12-6)

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

2019-20 Season Series: 0-0-0

 

Leading Scorers:

Flames:

Points - Sean Monahan (28)
Goals - Elias Lindholm (14)

Canadiens:

Points - Tomas Tatar (30)
Goals - Brendan Gallagher (14)

Special Teams:

Flames:

PP - 17.2% (21st) / PK - 84.1% (6th)

Canadiens:

PP - 21.7% (10th) / PK - 75.9% (27th)

Advanced Stats:

Flames:    

Shot Attempts: 50.92% (10th)
High-Danger Chances: 49.64% (17th)

Canadiens:

Shot Attempts: 53.70% (2nd)
High-Danger Chances: 53.83% (5th)

 

Video: Brendan Parker tees up tonight's matchup

 


1. US

The Flames have lost two straight games and have scored only one goal between them, but have no reason to hang their heads.

The offence will come.

Ditto, the wins.

"Keep shooting, keep going to the net," preached interim head coach Geoff Ward following Wednesday's practice.

Despite a 4-1 setback to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday - a score made worse by a pair of empty-net tallies - the Flames are feeling good about where their game is at.

Mostly, anyway.

They dominated the first period that night, out-shooting the Pens by a hefty, 17-6 margin, out-chanced them 13-2, and had a perfect, 6-and-oh edge from the 'Grade A' locales.

But a couple of defensive lapses later on proved costly.

"We didn't manage the game as well as we needed to in the second period," Ward observed. "We got caught out on long shifts on a number of occasions and we couldn't get the defencemen off the ice.

"It took a little bit of the juice out of our game.

"The message we had this morning was, 'Stay with the things that work - stay with the process. But this is an area that we need to pay attention to moving forward.' Just a little bit of game management and if we can make that adjust for (tonight), and play our game for the full three periods, we'll take it."

It's expected that David Rittich will get the start in goal this evening, after Cam Talbot gave the Flames a fighting chance with a magnificent, 29-save effort in Tuesday's defeat.

Rittich is looking to improve on his 15-8-4 record, .914 save percentage and 2.73 goals-against average.

On Wednesday, the Flames made a couple of transactions to help with the growing number of healthy bodies up front.

Austin Czarnik was placed on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Flames' AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, while fellow winger Zac Rinaldo was dispatched there directly.

It was a complicated measure, but one that needed to be done to comply with the league's 23-man roster limit. With Czarnik activated off LTIR - and thus, added to the roster - the Flames needed to make a move to clear space. However, Czarnik will officially come off the roster at 10 a.m. MT, allowing the team to recall Rinaldo to fill out the roster again, if they so choose.

"We'll get through today and see how things go with the waiver situation with Austin tomorrow," Flames GM Brad Treliving said. "But, there's a fairly good anticipation that Zac could be recalled, depending on how we get through waivers here tomorrow."

 

Update at 10 a.m.:

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: #Flames Roster Update: Austin Czarnik has cleared waivers and has been assigned to the @AHLHeat. In addition, Zac Rinaldo has been recalled from Stockton.

 

With Sam Bennett returning from a long-term upper-body injury on Tuesday, the Flames have their full arsenal available up front.

The lone injury remains on the backend, where defenceman Juuso Valimaki continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered in August.

"He's ahead of schedule, I would say," Treliving said. "We brought Juuso on the road with us to Colorado and Arizona recently, and it was more of a mental break for him to be around the group, which he liked and they liked.

"Juuso actually travelled home to Finland yesterday to celebrate Christmas with his family and give him another little break. These were all built into the (rehab) plan that we put together.

"It's going well in the rehab - it just takes time."

 

Video: "You really have to have a present-oriented focus."

 

2. THEM

The Habs are coming off a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, and have now won four of their last five games.

Tomas Tatar and Shea Weber scored powerplay goals 1:34 apart early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie, and Carey Price did the rest with 38 saves to record his 335th career win.

With the victory, Price - who improved to 14-10-3 on the year, along with a .908 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average - passed Cam Ward for 23rd on the all-time goalie wins list.  

"He's been extremely good," Habs coach Claude Julien told Matt Cudzinowski of the club's website. "Couldn't ask for better.

"He kept us in the game until we got on the board. That stretch where people were maybe second-guessing him and his play, that was a lot of our own fault in front of him. We were so sloppy. We needed to help him more than he needed to help us. I think we've done a better job of that in the last few weeks of tightening up defensively and allowing him to do his job properly."

While Price has definitely returned to form, and more closely resembles the Hart, Vezina, and Jennings Trophy-winner of his illustrious past, it was the Montreal captain that was getting all the attention at Wednesday's practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Weber has been a beast for the Habs this year and could be the running for his first-ever Norris Trophy at age 34.

Sound familiar?

In 34 games, the Sicamous, B.C., native has 11 goals and 28 points, putting him on pace to smash his career high of 56 (23G, 33A) during the 2013-14 campaign with the Nashville Predators.

Both numbers are Top 5 among blueliners, league-wide, and his 24:07 average ice time is tops on the team.

"I don't know Shea personally, but I've coached against him in the American League, and now in the NHL," Ward said. "There are a lot of similarities between him and Gio.

"By all reports, he's a really good captain, a really good person, does the things that he needs to do to be a good leader, looks after himself. He's a steadying force for them and works well with the young guys. It seems like there are a lot of parallels between the two players and it's funny how that calmness goes down through your lineup when you have guys like that in your leadership group and leading your team."

The Canadiens, who were 1-6-3 prior this recent, five-game stretch, are playing the second of a season-long, seven-game road trip - helpfully bifurcated by the Christmas break before finishing up out east.

But, no matter how you slice it, the road has a good place for the Habs, who have one of the NHL's top point percentages away from the friendly confines at .633 (8-4-3).

In fact, they've won three consecutive travel dates, out-scoring their opponents 8-3 in the process.

 

Video: Kulak, Price and coach Jullien on facing the Flames

 

3. US VS. THEM

This is the first of two meetings between these two Canadian rivals, and the only to be played at the 'Dome this season.

Last year, the Flames dropped both encounters - both by identical, 3-2 scores.

Matthew Tkachuk led the Flames in head-to-head scoring, notching four points (2G, 2A) in the two-game set, while David Rittich appeared in one - stopping 37 of 40 shots on Oct. 23, 2018 in La Belle Province.

Jonathan Drouin - who's out for the next eight weeks with a wrist injury - did the most damage for the Canadiens, cashing twice and adding a helper in the combined meetings.

The Flames are 4-6-0in their last 10 regular-season meetings and hold an all-time record of 40-60-15-2 against the Habs, including a 23-29-7-1 mark at home.

 

4. THIS, THAT & THE OTHER

THIS: Milan Lucic leads the Flames in all offensive categories against the Canadiens. The winger has played the Habs 48 times in his career, scoring 14 goals and 29 points. ... THAT: David Rittich has seen the second-most shots in the NHL this year with 856, and the third-most saves with 782. He has also played the second-most minutes among goaltenders with a staggering 1,676:33. ... THE OTHER: Mark Giordano is currently tied with Kent Nilsson for the seventh-most points in franchise history with 469.

 

5. PLAYERS TO WATCH

Flames - Rasmus Andersson

The Flames are hoping to get more pucks on goal - and Andersson is happy to oblige. The D man has a bomb from the point and has not been shy to unload in recent games, recording three shots (on four attempts) in Tuesday's loss to the Pens.

Canadiens - Tomas Tatar

The Habs' leading point-producer has six points (4G, 2A) on a five-game point streak and has dented the twine in each of his last four. With 30 points (13G, 17A) in his first 34 games this year, the 29-year-old is on pace for the highest offensive output of his career.

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