The NHL season is underway, and after an exciting slate of Wednesday games, the majority of the league is back in action on Thursday. That includes a North Division showdown between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets.
Calgary finished 36-27-7 last year while Winnipeg went 37-28-6. They met in the Qualifying Round of the Return to Play bubble, and the Flames won the series 3-1. However, Winnipeg was without stars Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine for most of the series.
The Flames are (-113) to win while the Jets are (-104). As the moneyline would indicate, both clubs are very evenly matched. The puck drops at 8:00 P.M. Eastern for this tilt.
Calgary Flames – Dialing Up the Heat
Calgary addressed its biggest need in free agency, signing former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom posted a 23-16-4 regular season record with a .918 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA. If Markstrom can put up similar numbers in net this year, he will be a noticeable upgrade over Cam Talbot and David Rittich.
Markstrom is the expected starter on Thursday.
The Flames’ blue line took a hit, as T.J. Brodie, Erik Gustafsson, and Travis Hamonic all left in free agency, but they brought in Markstrom’s Vancouver teammate Chris Tanev to help carry the load. Furthering the Vancouver-to-Calgary player movement, they also signed winger Josh Leivo.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was rewarded for his remarkable play last season with the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. He finished the season leading the league in saves and shots against and finished second in wins. Hellebuyck posted a 31-21-5 record with a .922 save percentage, a 2.57 goals against average, and a league-leading six shutouts.
Hellebuyck will get the nod in net Thursday.
Last season ended on a sour note, as injuries decimated the Jets and ended their playoff campaign prematurely. Now healthy, Winnipeg should perform more like the team we saw during the regular season last year, as the roster is almost entirely the same.
By the Numbers
Both teams ranked in the upper half of the league on the power play last season. Calgary held a slight edge; their 21.2% power play ranked 12th in the league, compared to Winnipeg’s 20.5% power play unit, which ranked 15th.
The difference on the penalty kill was much more pronounced. The Flames killed 82.1% of their penalties last season, which was good for eighth in the league. On the opposite end, Winnipeg’s 77.6% penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league. That unit must improve for Winnipeg to stay competitive, especially when three of last year’s Top 10 power play units are now divisional opponents.
The Pick is In
The Jets will be playing Thursday’s game with a chip on their shoulders following the playoff defeat, but it should be a well-contested and physical game throughout. While they finished the regular season near the bottom of the hits leaderboard, Calgary ranked sixth in the playoffs in hits/60. There’s bad blood, and this one could get chippy early.
Keeping that in mind, Calgary’s special teams get them on the board early and often. Take the Flames to win their first of the year against Winnipeg on Thursday.
Spooky Express Free Pick: Calgary Flames (-113)