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Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the San Jose Sharks:
1. A lethal 2nd line
Timo Meier, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski will likely be seeing a lot of 3M tonight. That means Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Joonas Donskoi, well, won't. That's a scary proposition considering how dominant they've been in their time together.
At 5v5, they average 63.49 attempts, 31.37 chances, and 5.23 goals per 60 minutes played. Calgary's top line averages 61.94 attempts, 30.46 chances, and 4.15 goals. CGY1 certainly has more raw talent, and they have posted their crazy numbers over a much larger sample size, but it helps put into perspective how good San Jose's 2nd line has been.
It's going to be tough to slow them down, especially considering they should see very little of 3M and Mark Giordano.
2. High-end 5v5 defense
When you think of these two teams, you think offense. Understandably so. Both teams are littered with big names and can score goals in bunches. With that said, the team defense they play is similarly impressive.
On the year, the Sharks allow 51.97 attempts (1st) and 24.33 chances (4th) per 60 minutes of 5v5 play. The Flames have fared similarly well giving up 53.19 attempts (5th) and 25.09 chances (8th) per 60 minutes.
Can the defenses hold up tonight, or will the offenses win out? Based on the high O/U of 6.5, it seems the latter is expected.
3. A big goaltending edge
If the first ~50 games of the season are any indication, the Flames should have the advantage between the pipes tonight. A big one at that.
David Rittich has provided elite level goaltending this year, particularly at 5v5. He owns a .936 save percentage and has saved 12.13 goals above average, both of which rank him top-5 among 39 eligible goaltenders (1,000+ minutes).
Things haven't gone so well for Martin Jones. Despite suppressing shots better than any team in the league, the Sharks are bottom-5 in goals against/60 at 5v5. Jones is a massive factor in that. He owns a .894 save percentage and has a GSAA of -21.44(!). That's good for last place in both categories. Yes, even below Mike Smith.
If this game turns into a bit of a track meet, the Flames should be comfortable Rittich will come up with an extra save or two.
4. Offense from the defense
This game is littered with modern-day defenders who like to jump into the play and get involved offensively. Especially if Erik Karlsson plays, which is a very realistic possibility.
Four defenders featured rank inside the top-25 in shot attempts per 60. Those defenders: Brent Burns (1st), Karlsson (2nd), Mark Giordano (8th), and Travis Hamonic (23rd).
Plenty of others not mentioned are mobile and can create offense of their own, too. I would expect a lot of offensive contributions from the back end in this one.
5. Timo Time
If there is one player the Flames really have to key on, it's Timo Meier. He has quietly developed into one of the best snipers and biggest offensive threats in the NHL. On the year, he averages 13.31 chances/60 at 5v5. That ranks him 1st. In terms of high-danger chances/60, he's right there sitting in 5th. If the Flames give him a split second with the puck in a dangerous spot, he'll make them pay.
Here are the projected lineups:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - James Neal
Andrew Mangiapane - Derek Ryan - Garnet Hathaway
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson
San Jose (via dailyfaceoff.com)
Timo Meier - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski
Evander Kane - Tomas Hertl - Joonas Donskoi
Marcus Sorensen - Joe Thornton - Kevin Labanc
Barclay Goodrow - Dylan Gambrell - Melker Karlsson
Radim Simek - Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Tim Heed/Erik Karlsson**
Brendan Dillon - Justin Braun
Puck drop is just after 9:00 eastern and can be seen on SN1 and NBCSCA.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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