The NHL makes its return for the qualifying round on Saturday with an exciting five games of hockey. Seeds 5-12 will battle it out in a best of five series to earn their spot in the pool of sixteen. One of the series kicking it off on August 1 will be between the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames. This game will drop the puck at around 10:30 PM Eastern time.
The Jets earned a record of 37-28-6 throughout this season, which has earned them the ninth seed in the Western Conference. Winnipeg was on a solid four game winning streak before the season screeched to a halt. The Jets will look to carry some of that momentum into this series as they look to knock off the Flames.
Calgary posted a record of 36-27-7 in the 2020 season. While the Flames had less points then the Jets, their point percentage was better, giving them the eighth seed in the Western Conference. This will allow for the Flames to dress as the home team in Edmonton. Calgary was able to win five of their last eight games before the season pause.
These two teams are really close in the standings, which should make for a great qualifying match. Winnipeg and Calgary only met up once this season, which should make for an interesting start to this series as they try and feel each other out. I expect a great Game 1 as both teams try to set the pace for this series.
The Jets and the Flames met up once throughout this season on October 26 in the Heritage Classic. Elias Lindholm started out the scoring for Calgary on the power play, but it was Josh Morrissey who tied it late sending this one to overtime. Bryan Little found the back of the net in overtime, which gave the Jets a 2-1 win in this outdoor matchup. David Rittich saw 45 shots and stopped 43 of them, while Connor Hellebuyck had 29 saves on 30 shots.
These two teams only got the one glimpse of each other and it was really early in the season. Neither team had found a groove quite yet in the season, which will lead to a very different game on August 1. I expect both teams to come out hitting to try and set an early pace, while both teams will also look to test the goalies early.
Winnipeg’s special teams have not been fantastic this season. The Jets power play has been able to capitalize on 42 of their 205 opportunities for a solid 20.5 percent success rate. Winnipeg’s penalty kill has struggled all season though. The Jets have allowed 39 power play goals on 174 chances, which gives Winnipeg a 77.6 percent penalty kill.
The Flames special teams on the other hand, have played a solid role in their success this season. Calgary has scored 41 power play goals this season on 193 chances, which is a strong 21.2 percent power play. The Flames penalty kill has killed off 161 of the 196 power plays opportunities against them. This gives Calgary an 82.1 percent kill rate throughout this season.
Calgary had the better special team percentages this season, but there are other numbers that could tell the story of this series. The Jets have been on the power play more than they have been on the penalty kill. The Flames have taken more penalties than they have drawn. If Winnipeg can stay out of the box and continue to draw penalties really well, this could frustrate the Flames and put them in a tough spot having to continuously be on the penalty kill.
Connor Hellebuyck will get the nod in net for the Winnipeg Jets in this series. Hellebuyck has been Winnipeg’s best player this season, earning a Vezina Trophy nomination. He posted a save percentage of .922 and a 2.57 GAA throughout this season. Hellebuyck earned a record of 31-21-5 as he helped lead the Jets to this position to compete in the Qualifying Round.
The Flames have not announced yet who will start in net for this series. Cam Talbot got the start in their exhibition game, but David Rittich came in later. Talbot had a shaky start, but stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced, while Rittich had 7 saves on 9 shots. Talbot had a save percentage of .919 this season, while Rittich posted a .907 save percentage.
Rittich started a majority of the Flames games this season, but with Talbot looking better in the exhibition game, it could be him who snags up the Game 1 start. Whoever starts for Calgary will have his work cut out for him as he has to outbattle Hellebuyck, who has had a great season between the pipes. If Hellebuyck can get comfortable early, it could give a big edge to the Jets in this one.
This matchup should be a great closer to a great day of hockey on Saturday. I believe that the Jets could hold an edge in this series if they can stay out of the box and get Hellebuyck in a rhythm early. The Jets have a nice pace to their game, but expect a player like Tkachuk to try and disrupt any rhythm. Calgary will lean on him to help get momentum back in their favor with a big play.
BetOnline has the Flames listed as a -115 money line in this matchup. This implies that Calgary will win this game around 53.5 percent of the time. I believe that both teams should be even in this Game 1. As underdogs, I see a lot of value in the Jets. Hellebuyck is a tempting player to back, especially against a team that has no solidified number one goalie. I am taking the Jets to win Game 1 of this Qualifying series.