With their fates sealed, the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are just playing out the string. The problem is that it is a very long string for both teams. Vancouver has five games left in the season after a particularly powerful strain of the COVID-19 virus wiped out the team for several weeks in March and April. Four of those games are against the Flames.
Calgary is an innocent bystander in all of this. They’ve been eliminated from playoff contention, but now have to play these four rescheduled games against the Canucks to finish out a disappointing season.
Thursday represents a chance to set the tone for these four head-to-head meetings. Which team will be more interested? Which team will be more physical and pay more attention to detail?
Let’s attempt to figure that all out, as Calgary is a -175 favorite with a total of 5.5 at Bookmaker the #1 US Sportsbook.
The Canucks won three of their first four games back from the long COVID pause, but then went on a six-game losing streak and only lost by one goal once in that span. It was definitely a very ugly run for them. They’ve picked it up a little bit with a 2-2 record in their last four games, but you really do have to wonder how invested this team is after such a trying experience that derailed the season.
Vancouver plays Edmonton on Friday, so this is a back-to-back with travel for them before resuming the head-to-head series against the Flames to end the year. The Canucks have the third-fewest goals at 5-v-5 this season. Some of that has to do with having fewer games played than the other teams around the league, but secondary scoring has been an issue all season long.
The Canucks went into Wednesday’s action with the 25th-ranked power play. They’ve been outscored by 23 goals at 5-v-5 and have given up a ton of scoring chances. By the team the season ends, Vancouver will have allowed the most scoring chances at 5-v-5 in the league. Right now, Chicago leads by 38 in that dubious department.
Jacob Markstrom, who now backstops the Flames, was really good for the Canucks last season. Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby have had their moments. Demko has a strong .914 SV%, but it comes with a high GAA of 2.89. Holtby has not found that magic that he had with Washington and has a GAA well over 3 and a save percentage under 90%.
The Flames won 6-1 in Calgary over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, but while they sat idle, both the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets clinched the last remaining NHL Playoff spots. The Flames knew it was only a matter of time, but the “e-” next to your name in the standings is still a tough pill to swallow.
Calgary only has themselves to blame. The bottom of the North Division has been pretty weak all season long, but the Flames were still unable to take advantage. Calgary has only scored 97 goals at 5-v-5 to this point. On the positive side, the Flames have also only allowed 97 goals at 5-v-5 to this point. Unfortunately, the Flames rank 19th in PP%, so they haven’t scored much with the man advantage either.
Calgary’s penalty kill ranks around the middle of the pack. While this isn’t a terrible profile for a team, the Flames still enter this game just 23-26-3 on the season. Besides the low offensive output, what else has gone wrong?
Well, the Flames have lost 13 of 20 one-goal games, so they’ve been a little bit unlucky in that regard. Not having a reliable backup may have hurt as well. Jacob Markstrom will likely play his 41st game here, as backup David Rittich only appeared 15 times before getting traded to Toronto. Markstrom has been fine with a 2.66 GAA and a .905 SV%, but other teams have had success with timeshares. The only other goalie on the active roster is Artyom Zagidulin, who has played just over 28 minutes this season.
Canucks vs. Flames Free Pick
This is a tough one because you normally see games that don’t mean anything have a more wide-open, free-wheeling style. That typically leads to more offense. In this instance, we have two teams that struggle quite a bit offensively, especially at 5-v-5. With this game, I’m looking at Calgary. While attendance has not been a thing in Canada this season, the Flames are the rested team at home. The Canucks have been traveling a lot lately.
Pick: Calgary Flames