Calgary Flames Mark Giordano, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the first period at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019.
Dec 7, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Milan Lucic (17) celebrates his first period goal with center Mikael Backlund (11) against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405455
Calgary Flames Michael Frolik during warm-up before facing the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL hockey in Calgary on Tuesday December 31, 2019. Al Charest / Postmedia
Calgary Flames (15-12-4) at Colorado Avalanche (19-8-2)
7 p.m. MT, Pepsi Center, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan
THE BIG MATCHUP
Flames D Mark Giordano vs. Colorado C Nathan MacKinnon
With the Flames playing much better than the last time these teams met, this will be the ultimate test of just how much they have improved or how much work they still have to do. The battle between captain Mark Giordano and pivot Nathan MacKinnon is emblematic of that. With Giordano starting to return to his Norris Trophy form and MacKinnon still being MacKinnon — one of the best players in the world — and the Avalanche having won six straight, shutting him down or, at least, attempting to slow him down, will be one of the top battles of the game.
FIVE STORYLINES FOR THE GAME
LOVE FOR LOOCH
It was a big night for Milan Lucic who notched his 200th career goal and second straight as a member of the Flames . Fittingly, the 31-year-old scored his first NHL marker against the Los Angeles Kings. But according to interim head coach Geoff Ward, this could be an indication of things to come. “He’s always been a streak scorer,” Ward said. “So, hopefully this is a good sign. Hopefully it keeps going. But, it’s great. (Saturday) was his 200th career goal which is special, it’s a marker … he’s playing well right now. And he’s feeling it, like a lot of guys are. It’s great for our team.”
POWERPLAY TRENDING UPWARD
The Flames were one-for-four on their man advantage on Saturday, giving them powerplay goals in three straight games (three-for-nine). But there are still things to improve upon, specifically with their offensive zone entries. “You can see (Saturday) we were having a few issues,” said Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward. “Mostly, it’s just we’re allowing ourselves to be crowded to one side of the ice and then we’re making late kick-out plays. So, it’s easily solvable — to get a couple goals in back-to-back games has been good. Our powerplay has been good at home, we just have to make sure start paying better attention to it on the road because on the road it has to get a lot better for us.”
If there’s one thing that has been consistent about this team in the last five games, it’s that their lines … um … haven’t been. And, it appears, that’s a good thing. The in-game adjustments of Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward have been effective and productive. LW Johnny Gaudreau practised all week on a line with Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic and started Thursday and Saturday’s games in that position. But, quickly, Ward moved him back with his old pal Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund and slid Dillon Dube back with the Ryan/Lucic line.
IN OR OUT?
Inserting Zac Rinaldo into the lineup definitely gave the Flames some life on Saturday and, with his brief T.V. timeout tussle with Kyle Clifford, provided some in-game entertainment for anyone who was at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The team flew to Colorado on Sunday and did not skate so it is not clear if he’ll draw in again on Monday or if they’ll put the struggling Mark Jankowski back into the mix. That also goes for Oliver Kylington who was replaced by Michael Stone on defence. Then, of course, there is the question of playing Cam Talbot for a second straight game; his 30-save effort against the Kings was impressive. But, with a back-to-back scenario in Arizona on Tuesday, they may just go back to David Rittich in Colorado and play Talbot against the Coyotes.
THIS N’ THAT
Flames forward Sean Monahan is riding a five-game point streak with three goals and three assists in that span … Also streaking? Johnny Gaudreau (on a three-game point streak with a goal and two assists in that span) and, of course, Lucic … the Flames have won four straight, a spotless record under interim head coach Geoff Ward … They’re also riding a six-game point spree (5-0-1) … This is the third and final clash against the Avalanche this season. Colorado has taken both games: a 5-3 win to kick off the season on Oct. 3 and a 3-2 victory at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 19.
Matthew Tkachuk – Elias Lindholm – Andrew Mangiapane
Mikael Backlund – Sean Monahan – Johnny Gaudreau
Milan Lucic – Derek Ryan – Dillon Dube
Zac Rinaldo – Tobias Rieder – Michael Frolik
Mark Giordano – Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin – Travis Hamonic
TJ Brodie – Michael Stone
Joonas Donskoi — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog — JT Compher — Andre Burakovsky
Valeri Nichushkin — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Matthew Nieto
Vladislav Kamenev — Tyson Jost — T.J. Tynan
Samuel Girard — Nikita Zadorov
Cale Makar* — Ryan Graves
Mark Barberio — Ian Cole
*both left Saturday’s game with injuries. No update available.
Flames — LW Sam Bennett (shoulder), RW Austin Czarnik (lower body), D Juuso Valimaki (knee)
Avalanche — D Erik Johnson (lower body), C Nazem Kadri (lower body), LW Matt Calvert (family matter)
Power play (prior to Sunday’s action)
Flames: 17.5% (17-for-97, 21st)
Avalanche: 19.1% (21-for-110, T13th)
Penalty kill (prior to Sunday’s action)
Flames: 84.1% (9th)
Avalanche: 78.9% (20th)
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019