After their extremely poor exhibition showing against the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames look ahead to their play-in matchup versus the Winnipeg Jets. The first game in the series will kick off on Saturday evening. Calgary is designated as the “home team” at the Rogers Place in Edmonton, making Winnipeg the visiting squad. A fun point to note is that this is the only all-Canadian matchup of the qualifiers. Both teams will look to make a statement in this qualifier, and use momentum to carry themselves into the real playoff rounds.
When the NHL season paused on March 11, the Flames sat in third place in the Pacific Division, behind the Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets sat in fourth place in the Central Division with 80 points in comparison to Calgary’s 79 points. In their season series against one another, the Jets came out victorious two out of the three times. They won the first game 4-1 and the last game 2-1. Calgary took the middle game of that series 2-0. Let’s take a look at how both of these teams match up going into the first game of the series.
The Calgary Flames are not a bad hockey team by any means. Like a lot of teams this past season, they’re just extremely inconsistent. When they get on a roll, they’re dangerous to go up against, but they also have a tendency to make multiple small mistakes that cost them in the long run. This season, their stars have definitely made the most impact on the team’s success, with Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau leading the team in point production. In terms of goals for/against, they’ve been in the middle of the pack all season long. Let’s see if this break has done them good and if they can make a big impact in the qualifiers.
Now, this is not meant to insult Jets fans by any means. I think a lot of people tend to forget or disregard the Winnipeg Jets. However, that can be something that Winnipeg uses to their advantage come qualifiers and possibly playoffs. Like the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg was another team that had a wildly inconsistent year. This is another team that has had their stars step up for them, as Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor were the team’s main point producers. What will definitely make a difference, and could possibly be the reason this team wins or loses the series lies in their goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina nominated goaltender has the potential to steal games if the Jets fall behind offensively. It will be interesting to see if they can pull out the stops against a hungry Flames team.
How they Match Up
Neither team has had a stellar record in the last few postseasons. Both have a team of relatively young players, some of which may still be experiencing their first time in the playoffs. In terms of this category, neither team has an advantage over the other, so I consider this one to be a draw.
Calgary: The Calgary Flames have multiple offensive powerhouses which could prove to be difference makers in this series. Three of their players in Matt Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan had 20+ goals on the year. In terms of goals for as a whole, the Flames had 210 goals for the season pre-pause, which stacked up to rank 20th out of the league’s 31 clubs. They allowed 215 goals, which ranked 15th in the entire league. The team had a CF% of 50.3, which means that in terms of controlling the puck, they controlled it about half the time that they were on the ice. Again, that lead to a SCF % of around half. An average year for Calgary’s offence, but if last year is any proof, this team does have the potential to light up the ice.
Winnipeg: Winnipeg had 216 goals for this season and only 203 against prior to the league pause. So, not much better or worse than the Calgary Flames. Their CF% was under 50%, meaning that they barely had control of the puck for half their time on the ice. This may have been one of the reasons for their struggles this year. Their SCF% was only 46.1, which isn’t the greatest statistic if you want to be a team that generates high offence scoring chances. Five of their players scored over 20 goals this season, which gives the team a small piece of hope in terms of spreading out the offence. If Winnipeg wants to succeed in this play-in series, they will need to have better control of the puck while they’re on the ice.
Advantage: Calgary Flames
Calgary: The Flames as a whole in terms of defensive ability are okay. Not good, not great, not horrible, but ok. Their penalty kill was 82% effective, which is above the league average of 79%. Their defence hasn’t been bad while playing teams who are more offensively challenged. However, against teams with offensive powerhouses, the team seems to falter which creates more high-danger scoring chances for the opposition. What will be interesting to see is if their defensive ability can save them if their offence falters at any point during the series.
Winnipeg: Again, the Jets are relatively similar to the Flames in terms of defensive ability as well. Their lack of power-play goals, however, was not balanced out by their extreme ability on the penalty kill. With only a 77% effectiveness rate, this was likely another reason offensive powerhouse teams could come into Winnipeg and score almost every time on their power play. Hopefully, the pause has brought some sort of boost to their special teams.
I think that this category is fairly obvious as to which team has the advantage in this matchup. Connor Hellebuyck is the clear favourite in terms of net minders in this matchup, and could completely steal the series for Winnipeg if he plays how he did prior to the season pause.
This will definitely be an interesting series to watch, and I almost find it too close to call who might win. If I go with my personal preference however, I would have to go with the Calgary Flames.
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