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Turning All Red: Blackhawks vs. Flames

Can the Blackhawks at least keep their dignity when facing off against one of the best teams in the league?

Calgary Flames v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks host one of the best teams in the league — the Calgary Flames — on Monday night to close out their season series. The Flames have won both previous games — 5-2 in Calgary on Nov. 23 and 5-1 in Chicago Jan. 2. — and haven’t lost at the United Center since 2016, so it’ll be a tall task for this current Blackhawks team to pull off a win.

The Flames are just a few victories away from clinching the Pacific Division title and battling for second place in the Western Conference, riding a hot streak of late with six wins in their last seven games. Their only loss was a 6-1 outing against the Vegas Golden Knights, a team desperately fighting to make the playoffs, but Calgary’s wins have been pretty convincing. Their latest win was a 9-1 curb-stomping of the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday when Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm all had four-point nights and seven other Flames registered a point.

The latter part is important to note because, while the Flames have one of the top lines in the league — Gaudreau has 105 points (36 G, 69 A), Tkachuk has 96 points (39 G, 57 A), and Lindholm has 78 points (39 G, 39 A) — they have respectable forward depth with a balance of offense and defense. Their second line can help contribute offensively as Andrew Mangiapane has 32 goals and Tyler Toffoli and Mikael Backlund are producing at 0.7 and 0.5 points-per-game rates, respectively. Their third and fourth lines are filled with guys who are defensively strong — like Calle Jarnkrok, Blake Coleman, Adam Ruzicka, and Trevor Lewis — and a few can surprise with a goal or two.

The Flames defense has been good, but looking at the lineup, they’re a great example of how coaching can really impact players results. Under head coach Darryl Sutter, Noah Hanifin (0.6 PPG) has finally reached his potential as a legit top-pairing, two-way defender and Rasmus Andersson (0.61 PPG) and Oliver Kylington (0.41 PPG) have exceeded expectations. Even players like Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, both underwhelming and prone to major mistakes on their previous teams, have contributed well in their bottom-pairing roles.

And then, of course, the Flames have one of the best goalies in the league in Jacob Markstrom, who has the fourth best save-percentage (.923) among goalies who have played at least 20 games. Combined with being a top-three team in all major statistical categories including shot attempts and expected goals share, the excellent goaltending is just a cherry on top of a well-balanced, well-coached Flames team.

The Blackhawks are trending in the exact opposite direction of the Flames with only one win in their last 10 games. They broke their losing streak with a 4-3 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but then immediately got back into the loss column after falling 4-3 to the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon. As said before, this recent skid shouldn’t be unexpected as the Blackhawks have been one of the worst statistical teams in the league all season — even after Derek King took over — and the only major difference is that Marc-André Fleury isn’t around to cover up mistakes every once in a while.

In the loss to Nashville, like with many losses recently, the Blackhawks got a lead — 2-1 early in the second period — but quickly squandered it, allowing three straight goals against. The Blackhawks got one goal back late in the third period but couldn’t mount any more of a comeback. As usual, the Blackhawks only legitimate line of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane factored into two of the three goals while Lucas Reichel picked up his first NHL point assisting on the third. The Blackhawks season-long issues with sloppy defensive play and lack of sustainable puck possession were the biggest contributing factors in the loss.

As expected, Kirby Dach (shoulder sprain) was not at the morning skate and is still “day-to-day.” Also, after the morning skate, King told reporters that Caleb Jones and Calvin de Haan will return to the lineup, sending Riley Stillman and Erik Gustafsson out of it. On forwards, Dominik Kubalik is back with Jonathan Toews and Taylor Raddysh was moved down to a line with Reichel and Sam Lafferty. Collin Delia has also returned after attending to a personal matter, so he’ll be the backup goalie with Cale Morris returned to Rockford.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Flames

45.98% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 55.96% (3rd)

44.89% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 55.51% (3rd)

2.63 (27th) — Goals per game — 3.55 (6th)

3.55 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.49 (3rd)

49.2% (19th) — Faceoffs — 51.4% (9th)

20.4% (18th) — Power play — 23.5% (9th)

75.1% (25th) — Penalty kill — 83.9% (5th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Kubalik — Toews — T. Johnson

Raddysh — Reichel — Lafferty

Katchouk — R. Johnson — Entwistle

de Haan — S. Jones

McCabe — Regula

C. Jones — Vlasic

Lankinen

Delia

Flames

Gaudreau — Lindholm — Tkachuk

Mangiapane — Backlund — Toffoli

Dube — Jarnkrok — Coleman

Lucic — Ruzicka — Lewis

Hanifin — Andersson

Kylington — Tanev

Zadorov — Gudbranson

Markstrom

Vladar

How to watch

When: 7 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+