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Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Toronto Maple Leafs:
1. A real response
. Calgary continually comes out flat and falls behind a couple of goals before they really start playing. That makes it nearly impossible to win. It doesn’t much matter how desperate you are if opposing teams are sitting on multi-goal leads and can just take away the middle of the ice. There is a reason, after 40 minutes, you always see ‘Team X is 34-1-3 when leading after two periods’ on the broadcasts. It is extremely difficult to crawl out of these holes. The key is to avoid falling into them. Calgary really needs two points and Toronto is missing a few key players (Zach Hyman, Jake Muzzin, and Joe Thornton). Now would be a good time to start strong and play from ahead for once.
2. Quality goaltending
. Jacob Markstrom, by and large, has played very well for the Flames this season. That hasn’t been the case of late, though. He has conceded 10 goals on 44 shots over his last two starts (.772 save percentage) and has made some mental mistakes that simply weren’t existent in the early going. Toronto has as much top-end firepower as any team in the league so, even if the Flames play well, he will face his share of quality shots. The Flames need him to be ready.
3. A breakout game.
Matthew Tkachuk hasn’t scored in nine consecutive games. His underlying numbers, for the most part, have not been up to par in that time either. The good news is he provided real reason for optimism last time out. He posted a 55 xGF% at 5v5, recorded seven shots on goal, picked up an assist and, well, wreaked havoc around the net. It was a vintage Matthew Tkachuk performance. Toronto, while a very good team overall, ranks 23rd in high-danger chances against/60 and are now without Jake Muzzin. This would seem an ideal spot for Tkachuk to go to work at the net-front.
4. A tough spot.
Calgary’s power play has struggled this season. The Flames rank 23rd in expected goals/60 and have looked completely toothless at times. On paper, this isn’t the best Get Right spot. Muzzin’s absence will absolutely help, however, the Maple Leafs rank 3rd in xGA/60 while shorthanded. Only Boston and Minnesota have done a better job of limiting chances on the PK. The puck movement will have to be sharp, and there will need to be real urgency in puck retrieval situations, for the Flames to have success on the PP in this one.
5. A true sharpshooter.
Auston Matthews has been the best 5v5 goal scorer in the NHL since Day 1. Now? He might be the best goal scorer period. Matthews has found the back of the net a ridiculous 18 times in 18 games and he’s full value for it. His shot is nothing short of spectacular and exactly *checks notes* zero (0) players have generated more scoring chances. That kind of volume + an elite release = a ton of goals. He really doesn’t need much time/space to get a good shot off so the Flames have to stick to him like glue. Get a hand on him or stick on stick every chance possible. If he gets a bit of space, he’ll make you pay.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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