Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4, SNW
Opponent SBNation Site: Matchsticks and Gasoline
The Flames have 51 points in 49 games and 22 ROW. The Leafs have 51 points in 44 games and 20 ROW. The Flames are sitting in a wild card spot with a very few teams breathing down their necks and the two worst teams in the NHL in their conference to beat up on fairly often. The Leafs just got popped out of their tenuous hold on the second eastern wildcard spot and have the entire rest of the eastern conference still trying to win games, even if futilely at this point for some.
Toronto has games in hand on the entire Eastern Conference, but the problem with games in hand is, you have to win them.
A quick look at the Flames roster and you’d be forgiven for wondering how they are where they are in the standings.
The answer seems to be by spreading out the talent they do have, and if that sounds familiar, it should. The top four goal scorers on the team are: Sean Monahan who is centring one top line, Mikael Backlund, who is centring another followed by wingers Michael Frolik and Johnny Gaudreau.
After that the threats come from two new Flames, and a bigger study in contrasts, you’ve never seen. Kris Versteeg, who is 30, was grabbed in training camp from a PTO with the Edmonton Oilers that didn’t turn into a contract and is on his seventh NHL team. Eighth if you count Edmonton. He’s got nine goals, plays a decent depth role and has okay shot differentials.
Matthew Tkachuk is hockey minor royalty, was a star in junior hockey, won the Memorial Cup and no one outside of Calgary will ever notice a thing he does while his old linemate Mitch Marner is whooping it up in Toronto along with his other old friend Auston Matthews. But he’s got nine goals and 21 assists, fantastic shot differentials and is tied for second on the team in points. He plays tough minutes, and he has right from the start. In my examination of the rookies in the NHL as they were coming up on decision time, he stood out for not getting any sort of “sheltering” treatment.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Matt Martin - Frederik Gauthier - Nikita Soshnikov
Martin Marincin - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick
Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak
(From Daily Faceoff, subject to change.)
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Johnny Gaudreau - Sam Bennett - Alex Chiasson
Kris Versteeg - Sean Monahan - Troy Brouwer
Lance Bouma - Matt Stajan - Micheal Ferland
Jyrki Jokipakka - Deryk Engelland
When last we saw the Flames, Jhonas Enroth was in net, he let in a goal early from Hamiltion, and the problem was, it was Freddie Hamilton, not Dougie. Versteeg notched the “former Leaf” goal thirty seconds later, and Chad Johnson made 39 saves.
Enroth spent the next few weeks looking at the sword of Damocles over his head and when it fell, he was in California, enjoying San Diego and playing for the Gulls (he has a .963 save percentage in two starts there).
The Leafs, since that day at the end of November, have flirted with Antoine Bibeau and then ultimately dumped him for a man bearing with the right pedigree. We should see Frederik Andersen in net, and the lines are unlikely to change.
Assuming Martin Marincin survived playing big minutes in his first game back from injury, the defence pairings should be the same as well.
The Flames went down in shame to the Oilers 7-3 in their last game when they faced Brian Elliott off against Laurent Broissoit. It’s safe to say Chad Johnson will get the start tonight.
UPDATED: Never forget the fear factor of Carey Price! The Flames play the Habs tomorrow, so the Leafs get the singed Brian Elliott, and the Habs will get the backup, who is better.