The final instalment of this series looking at the Vancouver Canucks’ division rivals features the Calgary Flames. The Vancouver Canucks and division rival Calgary Flames finally open the season tomorrow at Scotiabank Saddledome in what should be a spirited affair.
The two Canadian clubs know each other well from their Northwest division days and this familiarity has brewed some bad blood between the two. Don’t expect a dust up like the one from last season because new Canucks’ bench boss Willie Desjardins seems like a cooler head than John Tortorella.
But the other piece to that fabled puzzle, Flames’ coach Bob Hartley, remains employed by Calgary, and his hard-nosed style of hockey is sure to create some heated battles between the Canucks and Flames this season. Let’s just hope, this time, it stays on the ice.
Last Year’s Record and Dates to Remember
The Vancouver Canucks swept the season series a year ago, going a perfect 5-0 against the Albertan squad.
This years match ups:
October 8, 2014 in Calgary
December 20, 2014 in Vancouver
January 10, 2015 in Vancouver
February 14, 2015 in Calgary
The Canucks and Flames only play 4 times this year. In the West, each team plays 5 division opponents 5 times and 1 opponent 4 times.
Vancouver would have hoped to see Calgary for the full 5 contests because they had the most success against them a year ago and Calgary projects to be the weakest squad in the Pacific Division.
This isn’t the case, however, and since Vancouver struggles against the top teams from the Pacific Division the Canucks will have to take full advantage of their contests against the Flames.
The Vancouver Canucks Must Keep an Eye on the Young Guns
Despite the 5-0 record, the games between Vancouver and Calgary were quite close with two of the contests ending in an overtime and shootout victory for the Canucks. Calgary even outshot Vancouver over the season series 132-128.
Calgary has gotten better this season, as they’ve added veterans Jonas Hiller and Mason Raymond to add some much needed help in the net and up front. While these additions are beneficial, the success of the Calgary Flames lies in hands of their young players.
Sean Monahan, John Gaudreau and Sam Bennett are the three young guns Vancouver will have to watch out for. The official rosters have yet to be announced, however, but Monahan is guaranteed to make the team and Gaudreau looks like he’s a lock for the NHL as well.
Sam Bennett on the other hand may have to wait for a few ailments to clear up before he knows his fate for sure.
Monahan was a pleasant surprise a season ago as he tallied 34 points over 75 games in his first pro season and John Gaudreau is a spark plug in the offensive zone.
Bennett looked like the real deal during the preseason, especially in the game against Vancouver. If all three youngsters are playing in the NHL next season, they have the skill to be game changers, especially in the offensive zone. The Canucks will have to try and slow the youngsters down if Vancouver is to repeat the success of last season against Calgary.
Key Match up: The Top 6
Even though the Vancouver Canucks will be occupied with slowing down the Calgary Flames’ young guns, they should look to exploit the favourable match up in the top 6.
The Canucks seem to have the edge in the bottom 6 match up as well, but Calgary’s lower half of their roster isn’t that far off from the talent level or Vancouver’s.
There is a larger disparity, however, between the two team’s top forwards. As previously mentioned, Calgary’s young guns have great offensive talent; they just might be too young to reach their full potential this season.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin posted a combined 7 points against Calgary a season ago and the departed Ryan Kesler chipped in another 4. Take a look at Calgary’s top scorers against Vancouver and you’ll find a glaring problem: their leading scorer was Mark Giordano, a defenseman, with only 2 points.
Ryan Kesler may be gone, but the games against Calgary gives newly acquired Nick Bonino the opportunity to show he is a legitimate 2nd line centre. Other forwards such as Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows can also bounce back after tough seasons by exploiting the edge they have in this match up. All three should be able to make up for Kesler’s departure, especially against Calgary.
The top offensive guys for Calgary didn’t perform as a top 6 group should and Vancouver’s group still has the better talent. The games may be closer this year, but don’t expect the script to change all that much.
Andrew Jow is an English student at Simon Fraser University where he covered the SFU Men’s Hockey team. Andrew is a Vancouver native and covers all things NHL for The Hockey Writers. Follow him on Twitter @MadJowDisease