Tonight's game is a story of two teams defying expectations. The Arizona Coyotes have rebounded from a dreadful 2014-15 to contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, while the visiting Calgary Flames struggle to escape the basement of the NHL after making the second round of the playoffs last season.
Matchup at a Glance
|Calgary Flames||Arizona Coyotes|
|Points||17 (6th Pacific)||23 (4th Pacific)|
|Goals For||2.41 (21st)||2.81 (12th)|
|Goals Against||3.59 (30th)||2.90 (T-24th)|
|Power Play||13.8% (29th)||15.7% (25th)|
|Penalty Kill||72.1% (30th)||81.5% (13th)|
|5v5 Corsi For||47.6% (27th)||48.3% (24th)|
|PDO||96.9 (28th)||101.0 (7th)|
View from Calgary
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Before the season started, to be a Calgary Flames fan was to be optimistic about the future. The team had just fought its way to the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and had managed to land stud defenseman Dougie Hamilton from Boston in exchange for peanuts.
As December looms, to be a Flames fan is to suffer. The defense has cratered to the bottom of the league in terms of preventing goals, while the goaltending of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, and Joni Ortio has been nothing short of a disaster.
Still, with the Pacific Division as weak as it is, Calgary is not necessarily out of the picture. They are seven points back of Vancouver for the third (and likely final) playoff spot in the division. And if Arizona and Anaheim struggle down the stretch, the door could swing open for the Flames to make a run.
View from Arizona
Speaking of Arizona and Anaheim, the Coyotes feasted on Duck before Thanksgiving with an impressive 4-2 home win against Anaheim on Wednesday night. The Coyotes got points from young players like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, and Mike Smith had a pretty good night in net.
But perhaps most importantly, Antoine Vermette scored his first two goals of the season against the Ducks. It's been a nightmare year for the Coyotes center since returning to the Valley after winning the Cup in Chicago, but breaking the goal scoring drought undoubtedly is a huge weight off of Vermette's shoulders.
As has typically been the case for the Coyotes, consistency will be key to seriously threatened Vancouver for a playoff berth; the Coyotes have only strung together back-to-back wins twice in the last month. Arizona doesn't have to go undefeated to make it to the playoffs, but they do need to stop alternating between wins and losses.
Keys to the Game
- Draw Penalties - Calgary's penalty kill is the worst in the league at preventing goals. Arizona's power play has been much better of late. That's a potentially dangerous combination that the Coyotes need to exploit.
- No Letdowns - As fun as beating the Ducks was, the Coyotes need to come out firing early on. The early goal from Michael Stone in Wednesday's contest helped Arizona dictate the pace of play; they need to do the same thing tonight.
- Win the Possession War - It's not just about controlling the puck, it's about when you control it. The Coyotes need to generate second and third chance opportunities against a suspect Calgary back-end to ensure success.
Players to Watch
Sean Monahan is tied for the team lead in goals this season with seven. Alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, he is one of several bright young Calgary forwards who combine speed and skill.
Anthony Duclair is on a five game point streak for Arizona. Though Max Domi is the one commanding most of the Calder buzz, Duclair is hot on his heels.
Calgary will not have Lance Bouma back until January, but Jonas Hiller is expected to return to the lineup tonight. Jiri Hudler is considered questionable for tonight's game with flu symptoms.
Arizona will not have Steve Downie or Joe Vitale, as both are on injured reserve. Shane Doan missed Wednesday's game and is considered questionable for tonight's game as well.
Tonight's game begins at 7 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on ESPN 620 AM.