Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell
Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames take on the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3:
1. Waking up the top line
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm combined for just two high-danger chances (at 5v5) over the first two games. Two. Suffice to say, that's not nearly good enough. What's concerning is they struggled despite playing primarily against Colorado's middle-6, which isn't overly imposing. Colorado usually matches top line on top line at home, so they're likely to see a lot of Nathan MacKinnon. If they don't ramp things up a few notches, that's probably not going to end well.
2. Unleashing on the road
One positive of playing on the road and not being able to hard match Matthew Tkachuk against top players is, well, not being able to hard match against top players. Tkachuk leads the Flames in high-danger chances and expected goals thus far, and that's while having to defend MacKinnon and co. most of his shifts. That shouldn't be the case tonight, which means Tkachuk will have more freedom to focus on the offensive side of things. I'd look for him to make an impact in this one.
3. Special teams
I know, I know, I'm beating a dead horse here. But for good reason. Game 1 featured nine combined power plays. Game 2 featured nine combined power plays. The book on each team is they're great at drawing penalties, and not so great at avoiding them. That's proven true, and I'm not sure I'd expect anything to change given how physical and intense this series has been thus far. I thought special teams would be very important to begin with. Considering how mediocre Calgary has looked at 5v5, it's even more imperative they take care of business when up or down a man.
4. Cale Makar's debut
The Avalanche have looked as good, if not better, than the Flames and they have reinforcements on the way. Cale Makar, one of the league's top prospects, just signed an entry-level contract with the team and the expectation is he'll be inserted into the lineup immediately. He's a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman who can ruin forechecks and help quickly transition from defense to offense. He should nicely compliment Patrik Nemeth, more known for defense than puck skills, on the 3rd pairing.
5. A bump in usage
Andrew Mangiapane leads the Flames in expected goals for%, scoring chance for%, and accounts for one of the two goals they've mustered up at 5v5. His reward? Fewer minutes than all but Mark Jankowski. The Flames really need to get going at evens, and I think giving Mangiapane some extra reps could be a good way to go about doing it.
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 - Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oscar Fantenberg - T.J. Brodie
Colorado (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto - Derick Brassard - J.T. Compher
Gabriel Bourque - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Ian Cole - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Cale Makar
Puck drop is just after 10:00 eastern.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
Five observations from a concerning Game 2 loss
Western Conference playoff picks
Predicting 1st round upsets
Five keys to Flames vs Avalanche
Flames sign Artyom Zagidulin
Flames among those targeting Joakim Nygard
On the Jason Zucker trade that almost was
Predicting the Pacific Division standings