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GAME DAY PREVIEW- GAME 56: CANUCKS VS CALGARY/ HOCKEY DAY IN CANADA OPEN THREAD

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The road trip is over and today is Hockey Day In Canada, which means lots of stories that tug at your heart strings and way too much Don Cherry on HNIC...

NHL: Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks (24-24-7) vs Calgary Flames (34-15-5)

Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC

When: 7:00 pm PST

Where to Watch: SN, CBC

SB Nation Opposition Blog: Matchsticks & Gasoline

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: It wasn’t a particularly good road trip for the Canucks. After starting off with a win over Colorado where they looked as good as they have at any point this season, they stumbled their way through 3 different games, each time coming out on the wrong end of a one goal game. They accumulated some more injuries along the way and now find themselves on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, having been overtaken by a St Louis team that was once behind them by double digits. And to make matters worse, they face the best team in the West tonight, and most likely their first round opponent should they be able to battle back into a playoff spot.

I suppose if you want to be super optimistic, you could point to St Louis and their turn around to give you hope that the Canucks can avoid a matchup against either the Flames or Nashville, by somehow making up the 11 points that Vegas currently leads them by. There’s time to do it and the teams they face in March could allow it to happen, but make no mistake: the Canucks are the masters of their own destiny here. They’re going to get little help from others, so they’re going to need to start racking up some wins.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s that the Canucks have done well against the Flames so far this season, winning two of the three meetings. They’re going to have their hands full with a Calgary team that has gotten better as the season has gone on though, and are going to need to not only come up with a solid defensive game to give Jacob Markstrom a fighting chance in this one, but avoid some of the mistakes they made on the road trip that will definitely bite them on the ass in this one.

Here’s what we should see on the ice tonight via The Province:

CANUCKS’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Nikolay GoldobinElias PetterssonBrock Boeser

Markus GranlundBo HorvatJosh Leivo

Antoine RousselBrandon SutterJake Virtanen

Loui ErikssonJay BeagleTyler Motte

Defence pairings

Chris Tanev — Erik Gudbranson

Ben HuttonTroy Stecher

Derrick PouliotAlex Biega

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Michael DiPietro

FLAMES’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Johnny GaudreauSean MonahanElias Lindholm

Matthew TkachukMikael BacklundMichael Frolik

Sam BennettMark JankowskiJames Neal

Andrew MangiapaneDerek RyanGarnet Hathaway

Defence pairings

Mark Giordano — TJ Brodie

Noah HanifinTravis Hamonic

Dalton ProutRasmus Andersson

Goalies: David Rittich, Mike Smith

SICK BAY

Canucks: Sven Baertschi (ill), Thatcher Demko (knee), Alex Edler (concussion)

Flames: Michael Stone (blood clot)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Power play

Canucks: 16.8% (21st); Flames: 22.9% (8th)

Penalty kill

Canucks: 78.9% (22nd); Flames: 79.2% (19th)

It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any changes for the Canucks, which is frustrating because I am sure Canucks Nation would like to see Guillaume Brisebois get a look tonight. Sure, the kid is young, but is he really going to be so bad that Derrick Pouliot is a better option? Also, there has to be some way that they can get Chris Tanev playing on his proper side again.

And to get you up to speed on what’s going on with the Flames, we spoke with Michael MacGillivary of SBN’s Matchsticks & Gasoline:

1- While some had the Flames doing well this season, is it safe to assume that so far they’re surpassing your expectations?

Personally I felt that the Flames had a really good chance of returning to the playoffs, especially with the Pacific being pretty mediocre. They fell off a cliff at the end of last year after the injury to Mike Smith, so I felt a bounceback was going to occur. However they have completely surpassed what I expected them to accomplish, and especially the manner in how they’ve done it (2nd in scoring, strong goaltending, 3rd period dominance)

2- The goaltending situation’s been an interesting ride for the Flames, can Rittich keep this phenomenal season going into the post-season, and is there enough confidence in Mike Smith should Rittich falter?

Luckily the goaltending roller coaster has really settled over the last 6-8 weeks, with Rittich been the unquestioned number one. Rittich hasn’t shown any signs of faltering yet, so we’re hoping he can ride that into the playoffs. His record of 20-4-4 on the year is phenomenal, especially consider 3/4 of the regulation losses were games that the Flames got shutout. As for Mike Smith? I don’t have any real confidence in him, but every time I lose confidence in him he seems to have a decent performance. It’s safe to say Calgary will go as far as Rittich can take them.

3- We hear a lot about Johnny Gaudreau, but who’s a guy for the Flames that isn’t getting the press he deserves?

There’s a few different options here in my opinion, but I’m going to go with Sean Monahan who has had the best season of his career. He’s consistently been in the Top 10-15 skaters in both goals and points this year , but often gets overshadowed by Gaudreau’s flash.

4- Is there a matchup in the 1st round that the Flames would like to avoid if they can? And is this team built for a long run?

I’ve been fairly alone with this opinion the past few weeks, but if the red hot St. Louis Blues can get in, then they really scare me. They’ve got the talent to make a run and are finally getting the saves to back that up. As for the long run, I believe this team is really well set up, they have their top line (Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm) locked up long term at least than $18M combined. They seem to have a good succession plan in place for post-Giordano, and Rittich really looks like a #1 for the long term.

5- What’s been the most important change in the Flames this year? Is it the acquisition of a certain player? The coaching change?

I would have to say that Elias Lindholm has been the biggest reason for the Flames turnaround. He’s meshed perfectly on the top line, not just being a passenger but also creating a lot of offense as well. He’s added a dynamic right-handed threat on the powerplay, as well as being a very skilled penalty killer (a big reason why Calgary has 16 shorties this year). He also does one heck of a Skol Clap ;)

Thanks to Michael and the M&G folks for that, and you can check out their game preview here.

There’s a ton of games today including 4 different HNIC games (all 7 Canadian teams are playing) so we’ll use this as our open thread for the early games. Plus there’s FIVE games starting at 10 am and the Blues are in action at 11 am as well. Hockey Day in Canada kicks off with the Jets and Senators at 11 am, the early games are Toronto vs Montreal and San Jose visiting Edmonton.

Today I want to know: what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Hockey and Canada. Let us know in the comments below (and be as wordy as you want!)

GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN

Classic Canadian metal for you today, naturally. Here’s some old-school SACRIFICE with ‘As The World Burns’ off ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’.