The New York Rangers pay their only visit to Calgary this season. Winning will be a tall order with the Flames established as on the of the elite teams in the NHL.
One of the results of divisional play is limited exposure to teams from the Western Conference. The last time the New York Rangers played Calgary was back on October 21. Does anyone remember the 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden?
The Flames are one of the best teams in the NHL. They are third overall in the league with 93 points in 70 games. They are in a life and death struggle for first place in the Pacific Division, one point behind the San Jose Sharks. The winner gets to play the Arizona Coyotes (or Minnesota) in the first round of the playoffs. The loser draws the Vegas Golden Knights. Want to guess who they would rather play?
The Flames made some major changes prior to the season. General Manager Brad Treliving fired coach Glen Gulutzan and hired Alberta native and Carolina coach for four years, Bill Peters.
Peters took over a team that missed the playoffs, finishing with 84 points. He immediately imported some of his former Hurricanes, swapping Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland for Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindholm. They signed free agent forward James Neal and another former Hurricane, Derek Ryan.
Most of these moves have worked. Lindholm has blossomed into a star with 27 goals and 76 points. Ryan has been a solid addition up front. Hanafin has solidified the blue line. The only move that hasn’t panned out well is the Neal acquisition as he has only five goals this season.
The biggest reason for the Flames success has been Mark Giordano. Team captain and leader on defense, Giordano is having his best campaign after 13 years in Calgary and is in the running for the Norris Trophy.
Add in talent like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames have become a formidable team. The only question facing the team is who is the number one goalie. The team is torn between 36-year old veteran Mike Smith and 26-year old former back up, David Rittich.
The same Rangers team that lost the first two games of this road trip will take on the Flames tonight in Calgary. Will they raise their level of play and provide a challenge as they have against other top teams, or will they be dominated? It’s an interesting test for a young Rangers team.