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Five things to watch for when the Calgary Flames open their preseason schedule against the Boston Bruins:
1. Elias Lindholm on Line 1
I'm really looking forward to seeing him on the top line for a few reasons. One, I think he is a really good playmaker and will fit nicely alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, who rank No. 2 and No. 3 on the roster in 5v5 goals over the last two seasons.
Lindholm is also a very capable faceoff man and using him to spot Monahan – particularly on right side draws – would help take some of the wear and tear off Monahan's wrists, which seems like a good idea given his best asset is scoring goals. I hear having functioning hands helps with that.
2. Matthew Tkachuk and James Neal on the same line
Tkachuk and Neal both cause a lot of headaches for opponents. Beyond being really good at hockey, they're excellent at getting under people's skin and luring them into bad penalties.
Last season Tkachuk and Neal both posted +17 penalty differentials at 5v5, which tied them for 4th best in the NHL.
I know it's only preseason but these two don't strike me as the kind of guys who will dip their toes into the water slowly. I expect they'll be up to their old tricks.
3. A new look power play
It takes time to adjust to different systems and Geoff Ward has only had a couple practices to work on man-advantage situations. It'd be unrealistic to expect the power play to fire on all cylinders but the Flames have some excellent penalty drawers (Johnny Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Neal, etc.) so they should get a few opportunities to work on things.
Beyond systematic changes, I'm curious to see how Ward builds his power play units. The lineup the Flames are icing will closely resemble what we see come October so his options aren't limited.
4. Austin Czarnik
When the Flames signed Czarnik they talked about giving him a legitimate opportunity to carve out an offensive role. It appears that wasn't just wordplay. He'll start out on the 3rd line alongside linemates who have averaged ~37 points per 82 games over the last two seasons and he should also get some reps on PP2. He's being put in a position to succeed. He just needs to take advantage of it.
5. The Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic pairing
Though this pairing probably looks really good to the average fan, it does have its share of question marks.
Hanifin has never really played in an unsheltered top-4 role. I think he can handle himself – the Flames are certainly betting he can – but you don't really know until he goes out and does it.
Hamonic was a big-time disappointment last season. His offensive numbers cratered, which is not the end of the world because the Flames have some guys around him capable of picking up the slack. More importantly, his defensive play – particularly through the neutral zone – was really bad. The Flames really need him to bounce back so it'd be nice to see him go out and have a strong game tonight against a watered down Bruins team.
Here are the projected lineups:
Calgary (via NHL.com)
**Not expected to play
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - James Neal
Michael Frolik - Derek Ryan - Austin Czarnik
Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - Garnet Hathaway
Anthony Peluso** - Curtis Lazar** - Morgan Klimchuk**
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Brett Kulak - Michael Stone
Rasmus Andersson** - Dalton Prout**
Boston (via NHL.com)
Brad Marchand - Jack Studnicka - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson/Colby Cave - Ryan Donato
Peter Cehlarik - Trent Frederic/Jordan Szwarz - David Backes
Joakim Nordstrom - Chris Wagner - Martin Bakos
John Moore - Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzlecyk - Kevan Miller
Jakub Zboril/Urho Vaakanainen - Brandon Carlo
Puck drop is just after 2:30 eastern and can be seen on Sportsnet and NHL Network (U.S.)
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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Flames sign Elias Lindholm to a six-year extension
A closer look at the Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik signings
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