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5 THINGS - FLAMES VS. SABRES

Flames look for third straight win tonight vs. Buffalo

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

FLAMES (13-12-4) vs. SABRES (13-10-5)

7:00 p.m. MT | TV: Sportsnet West | RADIO: Sportsnet 960 The FAN

2019-20 Season Series: 1-0-0

 

Leading Scorers:

Flames:

Points - Matthew Tkachuk (24)
Goals - Elias Lindholm (14)

Sabres:

Points - Jack Eichel (38)
Goals - Eichel (17)

Special Teams:

Flames:

PP - 16.5% (23rd) / PK - 85.4% (5th)

Sabres:

PP - 18.6% (18th) / PK - 74.7% (29th)

Advanced Stats:

Flames:    

Shot Attempts: 51.75% (7th)
High-Danger Chances: 48.42% (23rd)

Sabres:

Shot Attempts: 49.69% 17th)
High-Danger Chances: 48.64% (20th)

 

Video: Brendan Parker on new line combos

 

1. US

Five days ago, the Flames took down the visiting Ottawa Senators 3-1, and been off ever since.

Elias Lindholm scored his team-leading 13 and 14th goals of the season late in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and supply the locals with a timely insurance marker.

Dillon Dube also scored, and David Rittich - who made his league-leading 23rd start - stopped 26 shots for the Flames, who are 3-0-1 in their last four.

"The group has been real resilient this week," interim head coach Geoff Ward said post-game. "They've found ways to pull together. And it's evident on the bench tonight. The frustration level is not high right now. Guys are really helping each other out, talking, finding solutions. Talking to each other. They're more solution-oriented rather than frustration-oriented whereas some points earlier that may have been the case.

"We're moving in the right direction. Guys are starting to see their play is trending up - and they're feeling good about that. They're finding ways to support each other and, as a result, the mood on the bench is real good."

The Flames took Sunday and Monday off to rest and re-charge, as they will play four games in the next six nights, including a back-to-back set on the road in Colorado and Arizona, Monday and Tuesday.

And with that, reinforcements are on the way.

Travis Hamonic looks poised to return after missing six games with a lower-body injury. The rock-solid rearguard has four points (1G, 3A), and is averaging nearly 21 minutes per game, in 23 appearances this year.

On Wednesday, the Flames loaned winger Austin Czarnik to the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League. Czarnik, who had a three-game point streak going at the time of his lower-body injury, last played on Oct. 24.

Meanwhile, Sam Bennett is "getting close," and Ward says the Flames are targeting Dec. 10 as a possible return date. Bennett's upper-body injury has kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 17.

Rittich will get the start in goal.

 

Video: "Most important thing in this league is often rest."

 

2. THEM

The Sabres are coming off a 7-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday, extending their point streak to four games. Jack Eichel led the way with a goal and two helpers, while Linus Ullmark made 44 stops in the victory.

The Sabres, who exploded for five goals in the opening 20 minutes and cruised the rest of the way, are 2-0-2 in their last four.

Conor Sheary (2), Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Asplund, Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju also had goals, while Johan Larsson had three assists.

"The last couple of weeks, we think we've been playing pretty good hockey," Sheary - who ended a 19-game goal drought - told Heather Engel of NHL.com. "We haven't gotten a lot of results, and part of that is because of secondary scoring. The other part is special teams, and both of those were good tonight. Hopefully that will give us confidence moving forward."

Kyle Okposo, who suffered a concussion back on Nov. 16, returned to practice earlier this week and did make the trip to Calgary. However, the three-time 20-goal scorer remains day-to-day and, according to coach Ralph Krueger, may not be cleared to play in any of the upcoming three games on this western Canadian swing.

Evan Rodrigues (lower body) also made the trip after missing the past five games. He skated on the fourth line during Wednesday's practice and has the green light to return this evening.

But it isn't all good news for the Sabres, as 2018 first-overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin, continues to work his way back from a concussion. The 19-year-old was off to a strong start, notching one goal and 16 points in the first 24 games, but suffered the injury last week and remains in Buffalo, where he will continue his recovery.

With a banged-up group, the Sabres have elected to run with 11 forwards and seven defencemen recently, going 3-1-2 with that configuration.

"That definitely has been working for us," Krueger told Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News. "I think bringing in the 11 forwards … what it does is give players down the lineup more shifts to keep them active, and it looks like they're feeding off of that in a good way, too.

"So, we definitely will be going in and out of that, I would say, throughout the season."

 

Video: Jack Eichel weighs in for Sabres

 

3. US VS. THEM

This is the second and final meeting between these two teams, and the Flames are going for the sweep after winning the first matchup, 3-2 in overtime, only eight days ago.

That night, TJ Brodie opened the scoring with his first of the season late in the opening stanza, but a short-handed goal by Jimmy Vesey, followed by an even-strength tally by Victor Olofsson, forced the Flames to play catch-up.

Matthew Tkachuk evened things up early in the third period, before Elias Lindholm won it in overtime, as the Flames finished up a tumultuous, four-game trip with a 2-1-1 record.

David Rittich had a sensational outing, stopping 34 of 36 shots - including 16 in a tilted third period.

The Flames are 8-3-1 against Eastern Conference opponents and are a perfect 4-0 against their Atlantic Division foes this year.

They also hold a 41-48-16-5 all-time record against Buffalo.

 

Video: Lindholm's OT winner lifts Flames past Sabres, 3-2

 

4. THIS, THAT & THE OTHER

THIS: Elias Lindholm tallied his ninth-career multi-goal game on Saturday. The 25-year-old has 14 strikes already this season to go along with seven helpers for 21 points. He had only 11 goals at this time last year, and is on pace to surpass his career-high 27 set during the 2018-19 campaign. Lindholm is 13 away from 300 career points and has posted 99 points (41G, 58A) as a member of the Flames. ... THAT: Tobias Rieder will skate in his 400th NHL game tonight. Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, Rieder played 292 games for the Arizona Coyotes, 67 for the Oilers, 20 for the LA Kings and now 20 as a member of the Flames. ... THE OTHER: David Rittich was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday. He stopped 95 of the 101 shots he faced, compiling a 2-0-1 record, a .941 save percentage and a sparkling, 1.94 goals-against average in three outings, lifting the Flames to five of a possible six points during the week. The 27-year-old Jihlava, Czech Rep., native has appeared in 23 games this year, posting a 12-7-4 record, along with a .915 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average.

 

5. PLAYERS TO WATCH

Flames - Andrew Mangiapane

Mangiapane could get a look on the top line tonight, as interim boss Geoff Ward has mixed up the forward units this week at practice. The 23-year-old has been skating on at the right wing, with Elias Lindholm at centre, and leading scorer Matthew Tkachuk on the opposite flank.

Sabres - Jack Eichel

The 2015 second-overall pick is scoring at a higher rate than he ever has in his career, and enters the contest with 17 goals in his first 28 games - a 50-goal pace.

"I think, more than anything, he's now a leader who understands that sometimes it's quality over quantity, and he can still concentrate on his game," coach Ralph Krueger told Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloSabres.com. "He's just been a very natural captain. He's enjoying it, he's communicating in a really good, consistent way, and he's very positive in his influence on the team. whether we've had a good day or a bad, and that's what we need to continue."

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