It’s hard to believe that both teams are two of the best in the league at the moment, considering where they were a month into the season. On November 15, the Canucks and Flames were both tied for second-worst in the Western Conference with identical 6-10-1 records.
The Flames have won six of their seven last games, and Brian Elliot has turned around his season in the process. After suffering through a brutal start to the season, Elliott has now won five games in a row.
That’s as many as the Canucks have won in a row as a team, and goaltending has also been a strength. Ryan Miller has won his last four starts, and Jacob Markstrom has looked solid since the beginning of December. Vancouver suffered their last loss at the hands of the Flames. It was a complete no-show as the Canucks lost 4-1 and were outshot 36-14. Markstrom was the only player who showed up that night, performing admirably as his team crumbled in front of him.
Critics will point to the Flames weak schedule as part of their winning streak since their last five wins have all come against Colorado, Arizona or Vancouver. The Canucks also beat up on inferior Avalanche and Coyotes teams but beat divisional rivals such as the Kings, Ducks and Oilers in the process.
Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Flames are three points up on the Canucks for the first Wild Card spot in the West. Calgary could really put a damper on the Canucks playoff hopes by sweeping this home and home tilt. However, Vancouver could pass Calgary in the standings with two outright regulation wins.
Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks
Friday, Jan. 6, Rogers Arena, 7:00 p.m. PST
Broadcast Channels: SNP, SNW
2016-17 Season Series: Oct. 15 – Calgary Flames 1 – Vancouver Canucks 2 (SO), Dec. 23 – Vancouver Canucks 1 – Calgary Flames 4
Calgary Flames: 21-17-2, 44 Points
Road Record: 11-7-2
Hot Players: Mikael Backlund (Goals in Five Straight Games, 13 PTS in last 12 GP), Matthew Tkachuk (7 game point streak)
Key Injuries: Troy Brouwer
Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Alex Chiasson
Kris Versteeg – Sam Bennett – Micheal Ferland
Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – Freddie Hamilton
Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
TJ Brodie – Dennis Wideman
Tyler Wotherspoon – Deryk Engelland
Vancouver Canucks: 19-18-3, 41 Points
Home Record: 14-6-2
Hot Players: Bo Horvat (5 game point streak), Sven Baertschi (9 PTS in last 10 GP)
Key Injuries: Jannik Hansen, Erik Gudbranson, Derek Dorsett
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Jayson Megna
Markus Granlund – Brandon Sutter – Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Alex Burrows
Brendan Gaunce – Michael Chaput – Jack Skille
Alex Edler – Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa – Chris Tanev
Nikita Tryamkin – Ben Hutton
1) Do the Flames have any lingering regrets about trading away Sven Baertschi? The answer is likely no, but it’s an interesting debate. The Flames have a solid top six and don’t really have trouble scoring goals. They also drafted Swedish defenceman Rasmus Andersson with that pick, and he is having a solid rookie season in the AHL. However, Baertschi would be tied for third on the Flames in scoring right now. Who would he be tied with, you ask?
2) Matthew Tkachuk. He’s one player who gets talked about a lot in Vancouver, and it’s hard to ignore his immediate contributions to the Flames roster. While Olli Juolevi is back in the OHL after a disappointing World Juniors, Tkachuck continues to impress everyone around the league. With Patrik Laine and the trio of Toronto rookies, Tkachuk may be slightly overlooked among rookies this year. Canucks fans certainly aren’t overlooking him.
3) In another battle of draft class rookies, Bo Horvat is outperforming Sean Monahan in terms of points totals this season. Much of that is due to Monahan’s slow start to the season, but it’s hard not to compare the two rapidly improving centres. Monahan earned a contract extension in the offseason, with an annual cap hit of $6.375 million per season. Horvat is unlikely to get that kind of money, but his agents will sure push for it if he keeps outperforming Monahan.
Phew! Now that the Columbus streak is over, the NHL finally makes sense again. So who has the longest streak now? [Takes big sip of water.] pic.twitter.com/AeLPxGnl7l
— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) January 6, 2017
4) The Canucks will be hungry to avenge their 4-1 beatdown at the hands of the Calgary Flames from December 23. To their credit, they have righted the ship with five straight wins, and remain in the battle for a Wild Card position. Both teams have performed well of late, so expect a closer matchup than the one that took place two weeks ago. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least one of the next two games head to overtime.
5) Nikita Tryamkin has quietly spent the season developing into a solid contributor on the Canucks defence. After sitting out for nearly the first month of the season, injuries meant Tryamkin got a chance to play. He hasn’t disappointed, showing a steady defensive game that’s improved vastly. You would like to see him be more physical and not ice the puck as much, but there’s a lot to like about his game. He has scored two career NHL goals, both against the Calgary Flames. He had a great end-to-end rush against the Coyotes on Wednesday, so watch for him to get on the scoreboard during the next two games.
6) All eyes will be on Calgary’s power play tonight. It has been producing on all cylinders of late. Since the beginning of December, Calgary’s power play is clicking at a 35% success rate. They still sit 10th overall in the NHL, but they are steadily climbing the ranks. The Canucks will have to improve on their poor power play (27th) and penalty kill (21st) if they want to have any hope of making the playoffs.