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Preview: Heat Is On Both Ducks And Flames As Pacific Division Playoff Race Tightens

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With both teams trying to keep charging opponents below them in the standings, tonight's is a critical division contest in Calgary.

Ryan Kesler potentially has new line mates to take on Jonas Hiller and the Flames.
Ryan Kesler potentially has new line mates to take on Jonas Hiller and the Flames.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It's amazing what a run of form can do to a division race. After holding a comfortable lead atop the Pacific for much of the calendar year 2015, the Anaheim Ducks have seen their lead chipped down to single digits and are now just six points clear of Vancouver following the Canucks shoot out win at Madison Square Garden yesterday. Meanwhile the silver and black menace has reeled off six straight wins and is just two points out of a playoff spot with three games in hand on the northern rival and one in hand against Anaheim's opponent tonight. All the while the Ducks have picked up their fewest points in a five game stretch of any point this season. Yet the Calgary Flames have earned points in four of their last five games, and staring down a seven game east coast road trip afterwards can ill-afford to come up empty with their playoff position in peril. It's the proverbial 'four point game' with one side looking for answers, and the other trying to stay above water.

Game Notes:

You know times are interesting when Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been separated and could possibly start on different lines. Per the LA Times' Lance Pugmire Getzlaf skated with Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri, while Perry joined Ryan Kesler and Devante Smith-Pelly. Though Perry has been producing of late with points in seven of his last nine games (five goals, four assists), Getzlaf has hit the skids going pointless in his last four games and seven of the last nine. During that stretch since January 27 featuring games against San Jose, Chicago, Tampa Bay (twice) and Washington (twice), both have been on ice for more shot attempts against at even strength, and are third and fourth worst (Perry -3.4, Getzlaf -3.3) amongst the forwards relative to Ducks shot attempts when they're off the ice at five on five. Hitching Perry to Kesler could pay dividends, as Kesler has been second best amongst forwards over that stretch with a 5.2 relative 5on5 mark. Meanwhile Maroon has taken the fourth most even strength shot attempts during the nine games, and paired with Palmieri's fourth best of the forwards 3.3 relative 5on5 number could help spark Getzlaf. Hampus Lindholm did make the trip and skated with the team in the morning despite an ankle injury according to the OC Register's Eric Stephens, and his presence certainly couldn't hurt a struggling backend. Whether or not he and his regular mate Francois Beauchemin are deployed statistically efficiently or not is another story. Also of note from Pugmire is that Frederik Andersen has remained in Anaheim, meaning it's John Gibson and Ilya Bryzgalov available for the back-to-back.

For Calgary the month of February has been successful in banking points in a majority (six of eight) of games, making hay despite getting only 42.4% of the shot attempts at five on five. However as they've done all season their defense has excelled at blocking shots, so much so that they get 68.3% of the unblocked shot attempts at evens. It's made life easier for Jonas Hiller, who's started seven of eight in the month with a 2.25 GAA and .931 SV% thanks in large part to 28 and 33 save wins over the Sharks. It shouldn't come as a surprise that he'll get the nod per Sportsnet 960 The FAN's Pat Steinberg, especially considering how the Ducks lit up Joni Ortio at Honda Center the last time these teams met. Offensively Mason Raymond and team scoring leader Jiri Hudler (19G 29A) have been pulling the cart with five goals apiece in February, with Hudler's seven points tied with Sean Monahan (three goals, four assists) for team best. David Jones (four) and Lance Bouma (three) have also scored multiple goals, while Johnny Gaudreau is level with defenseman Dennis Wideman with a squad topping six assists, one ahead of season defense scoring leader Mark Giordano (11G 36A). Hudler (three goals) and Gaudreau (thee assists) have been producing on the power play as well.

What We Can Learn From This Game:

For all of the Ducks' success against Calgary at Honda Center, they are 5-9-3 in the Stampede City since rallying from a 3-2 series deficit to bounce the Flames in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal. The last two trips have seen a shoot out loss in mid-Novemeber, and perhaps more ominously the 7-2 trouncing in March of last season. It's another stiff test with the Flames sporting the division's best goal differential (+18), and they have been scoring slightly above their season average in February. You may as well copy-paste the "Referendum on the Defense" point for every game until Anaheim can consistently prove otherwise.

Fearless Prediction:

Tim Jackman does himself proud after re-upping for another year at $700,000, creating more scoring chances than he probably should considering his fourth line slot, and maybe even dropping the mitts.