The Pacific Division leading Calgary Flames are in town as the Columbus Blue Jackets start their December home schedule.
The Columbus Blue Jackets kick off their December home slate that sees nine matchups in Nationwide Arena tonight against the Calgary Flames. The Pacific Division leaders come into Columbus with an impressive 16-9-2 record. They are a point clear of second place Anaheim with two games in hand.
Much like the Jackets, the Flames find themselves in a weaker than anticipated division. They have the opportunity to run away with the Pacific early in the year on the backs of their prolific scorers including Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan just to name a few.
Ahead of what should be one of the Jackets toughest test so far, I sat down with Ramina Shlah, site expert for FlameForThought.com who covers all things Calgary. Ramina is a fantastic Flames insider and is a great read. Give her a follow on Twitter as well!
Lansing Murphy (LM): The Flames made a big offseason trade with a Metro Division rival of the Jackets. How is the trade for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin working out for the Flames so far?
Columbus Blue Jackets
Ramina Shlah (RS): Elias Lindholm has been working out great for the Flames. One of their biggest problems was finding a consistent line-mate for Gaudreau and Monahan and Lindholm seems to be a perfect fit. While Micheal Ferland was decent on that top line, every Flames fan knows that Ferland is extremely inconsistent, something that Lindholm hasn’t shown yet. They finally have a great first power play unit with him on there as well.
As for Noah Hanifin, he’s quite good on the penalty kill especially, but he seems to sometimes make slight mistakes at 5v5. I know that could happen to anyone and he doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes which is good and he with Travis Hammonic seem to be doing well. But I’m the biggest Dougie Hamilton fan so of course i’m still bitter about the trade, and I’d prefer Dougie over Hanifin. Basically, Lindholm > Ferland, but Dougie > Hanifin.
LM: The Flames and Jackets are at the top of their relatively weak divisions. Do you think this helps or hurts a team as they head into the playoffs?
RS: I mean, it’s never a bad thing being at the top, especially at this point of the season when we’re more than a quarter in, it’s not just a constant string of good luck. The good thing for the Flames is that the rest of the Pacific Division is quite awful this year so they’ll most likely make the playoffs at this point being at the top.
Of course the mental aspect comes with it and they might fall down a little, but I think both will make the playoffs. At the top of their divisions, probably not.
LM: Where do the Flames match up best against the Jackets?
RS: I think our second line of Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett will most likely be out against your top line every time since the Backlund line is always one of the best in terms of puck possession. They’ll try and shut down your top guys at every opportunity since CBJ’s top line is doing quite well this year. Also, we scored three shorthanded goals against Arizona a few games ago and the Blue Jackets power play isn’t that great this season, so definitely watch out for that.
The Flames are also one of the best offensive teams this year (something they struggled with last season), and even against a goaltender like Bob, be prepared for lots of pressure, especially from our top line. In fact, the Flames are the only team to have four players with at least 25 points and only three other teams have five players with at least 20 points. So, again, you may want to have your shutdown line against our top line.
LM: What about this CBJ squad scares Flames fans the most?
RS: Probably Sergei Bobrovsky. While the Flames have been great offensively, they generally have problems against those big goalies even when we play an incredible game, like when we played Montreal and Carey Price made 43 saves to win the game for them. So expect Bob to be busy tonight but probably to have an incredible performance.
LM: How do you see tonight’s game playing out?
RS: It’s hard to say because I think both teams are quite unpredictable. I think it probably won’t be too high of a scoring game and both goaltenders will have to come up big tonight. I do think that the Flames may outplay the Blue Jackets at 5v5 and probably generate more chances, but I think true Blue Jackets will generate more high-danger chances, so it will be a matchup of the goalies tonight.
Thanks again to Ramina for that detailed breakdown of the Flames. The Jackets and Flames face-off at 7pm in Nationwide Arena tonight.