After taking three of a possible four points from the North Division leading Toronto Maple Leafs, the Calgary Flames focus turns towards the first of nine meetings against the other Ontario team: The Ottawa Senators.
It’s been a long time coming for the Flames to finally face the struggling Senators, as every other team in the division has reaped the benefits of the much needed matchups. Of course that is unless you are the Montreal Canadiens. That being said, if this season is any indication we shouldn’t be making such wild predictions until we see the two teams face off against each other.
Flames VS Senators Game Days
|Ottawa||February 25||5:00 pm|
|Ottawa||February 27||11:00 am|
|Ottawa||March 1||5:00 pm|
|Calgary||March 4||7:00 pm|
|Calgary||March 7||7:00 pm|
|Ottawa||March 22||5:00 pm|
|Ottawa||March 24||3:00 pm|
|Calgary||April 19||7:00 pm|
|Calgary||April 20||7:00 pm|
It took the Flames twenty games into the season to finally face off against the Senators, but will play them five times in their next six games. For a team that needs to get back on the right track and make up some points, this couldn’t be a better opportunity.
The two teams facing off each have had their fair share of team struggles, but the comparisons tell the story. Goaltending and defense have sunk Ottawa, while the inability to convert on chances have plagued both teams. Here’s how it all breaks down.
If the numbers aren’t enough evidence for you, it’s a no brainer that the Calgary Flames have the goaltender advantage. In terms of league ranks, across every single goaltender that has hit the ice surface at some point this season, Matt Murray and Marcus Hogberg are tied for the worst GSAA in the league. Now you can obviously say that the Senators defense isn’t helping them out, but even after that fact, both goaltenders are letting in a lot of goals. Far more than they should be.
On the other hand, Calgary’s goaltenders have been playing much better as of late. Jacob Markstrom was clearly overworked and suffered some sort of injury in the past week, but David Rittich was more than capable of carrying the load the last two games.
Who starts tonight is a mystery and in fact the team may look to rookie Artyom Zagidulin to make his NHL debut. On one hand it would make sense to not play Rittich in back-to-back situations, and give Zagidulin the chance to make his debut against a weak Senators team (a la Stuart Skinner). At the same time, the Flames desperately need every single point they can get and Rittich gives them the best shot.
What will be interesting moving forward will be to see the goaltending management against the Senators as the season progresses.
|CGY||32.50 (22nd)||31.36 (17th)||799.32 (22nd)||160.54 (23rd)|
|OTT||42.48 (30th)||59.88 (31st)||3980.74 (30th)||191.16 (30th)|
The Flames have not been good defensively this season, there is no debating that fact, but compared to how the Senators season has gone so far they look like the Detroit Red Wings of the early 2000s. The Senators are simply ranked at, or extremely close to, the bottom of the majority of defensive categories. It’s been a tough ride in the defensive zone and it has only showed minor signs of improvement.
When the team was rolling out the likes of Braydon Coburn, Erik Gudbranson, and Mike Reilly in the same game together it was tough sledding. Now with Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom back in the lineup, things look a little bit better for the team. Add in the surprise of Artyon Zub, and the signs of improvement continue. It’s far from perfect, but it’s what they have.
Of course if we know anything about the Calgary Flames, they love to back way down from weaker competition. How do we know that? Well when the Senators aren’t ranked 31st in the league across the categories noted above, the other team occupying that spot is the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks split the most recent four game series with the Flames, earning an extra point in the process.
So to an extent, even if the team is terrible defensively, the Flames have found a way to make them look somewhat skilled in that department.
The Flames defense is much more skilled and experienced, which should help them shut down the young Senators forwards. It should be a clear advantage… right?
|CGY||34.55 (6th)||31.95 (16th)||800.30 (9th)||169.22 (6th)||7.42 (20th)|
|OTT||38.35 (5th)||34.67 (13th)||920.17 (2nd)||179.48 (5th)||6.81 (26th)|
When looking at offensive numbers so far this season it’s a completely different story, for both teams. At 5v5, SVA adjusted, the teams rank in the top ten across the majority of categories. Many have attributed this to the high scoring North Division, but even as both teams are struggling in the standings they are not doing too bad comparatively to the rest of the league.
The Senators have a number of young players up front that have been leading the charge. Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, and Drake Batherson garnering the majority of points for the team. Add in the likes of Evgenii Dadanov and Connor Brown and frankly the team isn’t terrible when it comes to forwards. When comparing to the rest of the league, they aren’t as deep, but the forward group has been able to do a decent job (in terms of what was expected of the 2020/21 Ottawa Senators of course).
The Flames are a much deeper forward group, and a much older group at that, which should give them the edge once again. There are number of players on the Flames roster that could benefit from a few games against the Senators to get back on track offensively.
Don’t be surprised to see Geoff Ward insert some new faces into the lineup and switch up his lines to get a few more of those players going. That of course really isn’t new news just because the team is playing the Senators, but gives more of an excuse as to why Ward would be doing that.
What To Expect
If the Flames aren’t able to get a large fraction of the 18 points available out of the Senators this season, it would just be a complete disaster.
Absolutely no disrespect to the Senators and the fans in Ottawa, because really we have absolutely nothing against you, but the rest of the team in the North Division have gotten a massive boost from their games against Ottawa and that has been the difference in the standings right now if you are a Flames fan.
This really isn’t the time for the Flames to sit on their heels and hope they get their victories, they need to show up in full force and take what they so desperately need. The Flames have had a history of not showing up against teams at the bottom of the standings, which very well may happen here, but in a shortened season they cannot afford to squander.
The Senators also have improved since the start of the season, and have been 4-6-0 in their last ten. It’s nothing to laugh at as their last victory ended up costing Claude Julien his head coaching job in Montreal. They should be an easy matchup for the Flames, but if we have learnt anything from this team, it’s that nothing is easy in 2021.
Photo via Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press