The Calgary Flames will face a familiar opponent on Jan. 14th, 2021, as they’ll do battle with the Jets in Winnipeg. The Flames haven’t won a regular season-opening game in 10 seasons, but the Jets pose as a wonderful match-up opportunity in terms of animosity between the two organizations. The teams are fresh off of a hate-filled Stanley Cup Qualifying Round that saw a plethora of physicality, resentment, and hope that the once fierce rivalry has finally rekindled.
The Flames ultimately took the series win three games to one, but the Jets organization, and more importantly, head coach Paul Maurice, was none too pleased about some of the injuries his players endured. (From ‘Jets hit with triple whammy in playoff opener as they lose to Flames, lose Scheifele and Laine to injury,’ Winnipeg Sun, 08/02/20)
Sparks are sure to fly as the Flames are in desperate need of a win on opening night, and they will have high expectations, as the club brought in some highly anticipated new faces to their lineup.
There truly isn’t a nice way to sugarcoat the Flames’ record on opening night, as their nerves of the season ahead seem to be plaguing them year after year. They’ve lost 10 straight regular-season openers and hold an overall record of 10-23-6 on opening night. Their last opening night victory came against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 1st, 2009, a game that I just so happened to sit six rows behind former Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Since the Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta in 1980, they’ve only faced the Jets on opening night twice in their team’s history. The Flames dominated the Jets in their first installation of season openers back in 1985 by a score of 8-3, on a night in the Olympic Saddledome where Lanny McDonald racked up 4 points. Opening night in 1994, the teams met in the Winnipeg Arena, but the Jets were unable to ground the Flames, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.
Although these two teams have little experience against each other on the first drop of the puck, last year’s playoff series between the Jets and Flames was filled with elation and upset, which is the perfect poison for a fierce sample size on not only what the Jets and Flames rivalry will be like, but also just how intense the Canadian Division really is.
What to Expect
The expectation is the Jets will counterattack the Flames’ special teams’ units. In the first game between these two teams during the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers, the Flames scored two powerplay goals and a shorthanded marker.
Over the next three games, the Flames’ powerplay unit would include three more powerplay markers, while the Jets managed just two goals with the man-advantage all series.
Public Enemy #1
Matthew Tkachuk was at the height of all the hype after last year’s Stanley Cup qualifying round, as he was up to his usual pest-like antics that seemed to rattle his opponents to no end. Paul Maurice had some strong words for Tkachuk after Game 1 last year, as he suggested the youngster intended to injure Jets’ forward Mark Scheifele. “Oh, it was intentional. A filthy, dirty, kick to the back of the leg,” said Maurice.
Tkachuk said he saw things differently and felt terrible. “I’m backchecking on him, and it’s such an accident. I felt terrible. He was turning away and my left skate had a little bit of the speed wobbles and I was moving too fast for myself. My left skate just collided and it looked like it jammed him up. His body was going one way, but the way I hit him his leg stayed the one way.”
Tkachuk’s ability to ramp up the intensity of the series with his rugged yet smooth playing style is what really lifted the Flames to the next round. Sean Monahan’s six points in the four contests and former Flames’ netminder Cam Talbot’s .945 save percentage (SV)% was a huge contributing factor to last year’s series win. But Tkachuk set the tone early and got inside the heads of the Jets. After all, mind games are what Tkachuk loves.
Cooler Heads Must Prevail
The adrenaline will continue to mount in the coming days as two fierce rivals get set to show the hockey world everything they’ve got. 2020 has been a strenuous grind for all of us, but the Flames and Jets provided outstanding playoff hockey this past summer, at a time when we least expected it.
These two teams are looking to make a statement on opening night, as the race to crown the King of the North truly begins due to a season like no other. Both squads will have ample opportunities to show each other who is boss as they face off against each other nine times over the spread of 56 games this season.