Tracking the Calgary Flames: Season-Long NHL Picks and Handicapping for Hockey
by Trevor Whenham - 11/10/2014
I have had tonight's Calgary Flames at Carolina Hurricanes game circled since Oct. 23. On that night I watched these two teams play in person in Calgary. It was a truly horrible game. The Flames won 5-0, and the game wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. Carolina was terrible, and Calgary matched up very well with them. (Incidentally, by far the highlight of the night came after the game when we watched Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and several other Capitals who were in town awaiting their game two days later play some reasonably high stakes blackjack at the casino near the arena while dozens of fanboys tried to watch without looking like they were staring.) At that point I wanted to bet this game on three conditions - if Calgary was in good form at the end of a five-game road trip, if Jonas Hiller, who got the shutout last time, was in net for Calgary again, and if the price was right. All three conditions are met here, so this is a very playable spot.
Calgary Flames at Carolina Hurricanes Betting Storylines
The biggest difference between this game and the last one is that Eric Staal is active now, whereas he was injured last time the teams met. The return of the Hurricanes' best player - by a wide margin - is not insignificant. They have been a different team since his return. They were winless up to his return and have gone 4-1-1 since he has been back, including a four-game winning streak that featured a surprising win over the Kings and tough back-to-back wins over the Blue Jackets. He has averaged a point per game since coming back and has had a much bigger impact on the rest of the team than that. It's important to note that this Hurricanes team, though not good by any means, is not the same one Calgary humiliated last time out.
At this point in the season there isn't a free agent acquisition that has had a bigger impact on his new team than Jonas Hiller. Calgary's goaltending last year was, at best, unremarkable. Now it is the biggest reason for the very unlikely success this team has enjoyed so far. He's 7-3-1, has gone 7-1-1 in his last nine, and ranks way up there is the significant statistical categories. More significant than his record, though, is how the team responds to him. He entered the game in relief on Saturday after starter Karri Ramo had allowed four goals. The game was on the verge of getting out of hand, and it likely would have as recently as last year with this Flames team. When Hiller came in, though, the team just relaxed, refocused, and came back to win 6-4. After platooning early in the season, Hiller has emerged as the clear starter, and Saturday's showing has only strengthened that position. A hot, confident goalie is the biggest asset a team can have. He has been much better than either of the Carolina goalies, so this is a big edge for Calgary.
I have given up trying to figure out how this team is succeeding on the road. All I can do is accept that they are. No team has played more road games than Calgary, so it seemed reasonable to expect the young team to struggle early in the season because of the tough schedule. Instead, their 7-3 record is more than impressive. They are 3-1 on this current trip, and the loss at Tampa Bay was not terrible. Their first road trip was six games long. They lost the fifth game soundly but bounced back strong to win the final game easily in Winnipeg. Being on the road is not a particular negative for the team here.
Calgary Flames at Carolina Hurricanes Odds and Betting Trends
This game is, in the eyes of oddsmakers, a coin flip. Both teams sit at -110 in early action at Sportsbook.ag. The total sits at the typical but more conservative level of 5, with the "over" strongly favored at -140.
The Flames are 4-0 the last four times these teams have met. The home team is 6-1 in the last seven meetings. Carolina, like Garfield, hates Mondays - they are 1-10 in their last 11 Monday games.
Calgary Flames at Carolina Hurricanes Predictions and Picks
Like I said at the outset, the conditions are right to make Calgary the pick here. Their top defenseman and rookie Johnny Gaudreau are all playing with a ton of offensive confidence, and that is going to be very tough for Carolina to handle, or to match when facing Jonas Hiller. The Flames will come crashing to earth at some point, but not yet.
6-Unit Play #53 Take Calgary at Carolina (-110) (7:05 pm ET Monday)
Year-to-date Flames picks: 1-1, +1 Units, +$100.
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