The Calgary Flames take a short flight to Vancouver for a meeting with the Canucks to open the season. Some people would have probably preferred to see the Battle of Alberta in the opener, but Oilers’ fans are going to have to wait for Saturday until their team steps on the ice for the first time this season. The Oilers will be in New Jersey for an early afternoon showdown with the Devils. We’ll see if Connor McDavid gets some help in Edmonton this season.
As far as the Flames are concerned, they are expected to be a playoff team after missing out last season with a record of 37-35-10. The Flames are banking on their young core to continue to produce like they did a year ago. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk all did their part in 2017-18. They couldn’t do it all, and that was clear with the lack of depth on their roster.
The 4th line in Calgary really were a dormant bunch. If the top liners didn’t make anything happen, then the Flames’ chances of winning games were dim a year ago. Every team depends on their top-line; however, there comes some nights when the role players have to chip in. Asking Matt Stajan and the rest of their forwards to do something was like pulling teeth. The Flames said goodbye to Dougie Hamilton this past offseason, but they welcome veteran James Neal who is likely just the guy they were hoping to score.
In the Vegas Golden Knights’ first season as a franchise, Neal was a pivotal force in leading them to the Stanley Cup Final. He finished with 25 goals and 19 assists just when everyone thought his gas tank was empty. Neal provides tremendous veteran leadership for the young guys on this roster as well. The Flames are banking on Sam Bennett taking a step forward in his development this year.
If that happens, the Flames are going to be in business. The Canucks will look to counter with their talented combo of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Elias Pettersson. Pettersson goes into this season as a Calder Trophy candidate. And when Horvat and Boeser on the ice and healthy, the Canucks have some decent pop. Both suffered injuries last season which derailed any hope they had in 2-17-18. Like the Flames last season, depth is going to be a major issue for the Canucks. The Canucks finished with a record of 31-40-11 and will likely see a bump, but don’t expect the playoffs. Head below for our free Flames vs. Canucks pick.
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks Pick
To a lesser extent, like the Canadiens and Leafs, the Flames and Canucks are on different sides of the fence. No, the Canucks aren’t as far back as the Canadiens at the moment, but they’re still likely a couple of years off. Meanwhile, the Flames are looking at getting back in the playoffs. It’s going to be a bust of a year for Bill Peters in his first season as the bench boss if they don’t.
Neal was brought in to provide much needed depth and fill a hole the Flames needed to fix. The Canucks added Jay Beagle for some help in the back-end at centre, but he’s not an instant fix for this squad. Beagle finished with 7 goals and 15 assists as a member of the Stanley Cup Champions. He’s a good player for a team that has great depth like the Capitals have. On the Canucks, look for him to struggle with less talent around him. Jacob Markstrom heads into the season as the true starter in net for the Canucks. He was adequate with a 2.71 GAA and 0.921 save percentage last year.
The Flames’ Mike Smith is coming off a similar year, as he posted a 2.65 GAA and 0.916 save percentage. I would say it’s a wash in the goaltending matchup. It’s tough to envision the Canucks finding much success here when Boeser and Horvat aren’t on the ice, though. The blue-line is talentless as well, while the Canucks await Olli Juolevi and Quinn Hughes to develop, but they aren’t ready to be major contributors yet.
Expect to find the Canucks at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2018-19. The Flames haven’t won their opener since the season 2009 season. With a new head coach and a team with more potential than they’ve had in years, the Flames likely come out playing well in Vancouver. If it was December or January, the price on the Flames here would probably be around -155 or -160, barring injuries and unforeseen variables. I don’t go heavy on the NHL over the first month or two of the regular season, but take a look at the Flames if you want NHL action in the late game on Wednesday night.