The Calgary Flames open their season with a visit from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
Calgary is coming off the second-best regular season in franchise history, as it won 50 games and its second Pacific Division crown in four years. A potential meeting with Colorado in the Western Conference final was erased when the Flames lost the battle of Alberta, four games to one, to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the postseason.
Change was the name of the game for Calgary in the offseason. Gone are franchise cornerstone forward Johnny Gaudreau and forward Matthew Tkachuk. New faces include winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and center Nazem Kadri.
Kadri faces his former team after totaling 28 goals and 59 assists for the Avalanche last season.
All eyes will be on Huberdeau, who will skate on Calgary’s top line and look to match the 30 goals and league-leading 85 assists he generated for the Florida Panthers last season.
“I want to do well, so there’s no pressure on my side,” Huberdeau said. “I know what I can do. That’s all I have to do — I have to play well. I mean, I demand a lot of myself anyway. … I’m confident. It’s going to be an exciting season.”
Another key for the Flames will be the continued excellence of goalie Jacob Markstrom. The 32-year-old played 63 games last season, registered a league-leading nine shutouts and had a 2.22 goals-against average (third in the NHL) and a .922 save percentage (fourth).
Markstrom, who has said he would like to play even more this season, did not skate Wednesday due to an illness. His status for the opener was unknown, meaning Dan Vladar could make the start.
“I don’t even have one year of medical school,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said Wednesday regarding Markstrom.
Colorado opened its Stanley Cup defense with a 5-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin each scored two power-play goals and Mikko Rantanen had four assists.
Leading 2-1, the Avalanche pulled away thanks to two second-period goals by Lehkonen.
With Darcy Kuemper, Colorado’s netminder for the Cup run, making his Washington Capitals debut on Wednesday, former New York Ranger Alexandar Georgiev stopped 15 of 17 shots in his Avalanche debut.
Before the game, Colorado raised a banner to celebrate its first Stanley Cup since 2001. The Avalanche also won the championship in 1996.
“We’re all proud of what we did, but it’s a new journey, a new chapter for us,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “It kind of puts the stamp on last season and then we’re going to start fresh. Everyone has a clean slate from there.”
Colorado looks to become the third team in the past decade to win back-to-back Cups, joining the Tampa Bay Lightning (2020, 2021) and Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017).
Pavel Francouz, Kuemper’s backup a year ago, will likely start in goal on Thursday.
The Avalanche opened the season without left winger Gabriel Landeskog, who took part in the banner ceremony but is sidelined indefinitely due to a lower-body injury.
“He’s not ready to go,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We don’t have a timetable yet for putting him on the ice. He won’t skate anytime soon.”
–Field Level Media