As a fan who considers the Calgary Flames to be my No. 2 team, I follow the team fairly closely and can therefore provide some insight for Bruins fans as to what they can expect when they face the Flames tomorrow night.
The Flames are a greatly improved team over last season, especially in the area of defense. The addition of Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov have solidified the third defensive pairing which was very porous last season. Also, losing their former captain Marc Giordano has actually proven to have had a positive effect on the Flames' defense, as it has opened up more ice time for other defensemen to step up and become more important to the Flames. Noah Hanifin, , Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington have all benefitted from the increased ice time, and the two big boys on the third line have been physically punishing on the other teams and are rock solid in their own end.
As well, the Flames have had great goaltending. Part of this is due to the improved defense, but they have seen greatly improved play from Jacob Markstrom, who has had 5 shutouts in 13 starts this season. Dan Vladar has also been playing very well for the Flames. He is undefeated in regulation time and also put up his first career shutout vs Ottawa last week. Since Markstrom has started the last three games, I think the Flames will start Vladar vs his old team tomorrow.
The team has also seemingly bought into Daryl Sutter's system. They are playing very good team defense and are effective at getting into the other team's passing and shooting lanes, and generally making it hard for the other team to play against them. They have been good offensively for a while now, but the top line seemed to tail off last season. It came out after the playoffs last season that their top center, Sean Monahan, had been playing through an injury for the past two seasons and required surgery. As a result, the first line was re-built. Elias Lindholm was moved to the 1C position, and Matt Tkachuk was moved to the top line. Both have been positive moves, as all three players have found some chemistry together and Johnny Gaudreau in particular is finding more room to skate with Tkachuk providing a physical presence on the top line for him.
The other bright light on the Flames offense is Andrew Mangiapane. He is on a torrid pace lately, having scored 2 goals in each of his last two games, and now has scored 13 of his 14 goals in 13 road games. Sean Monahan, who missed training camp and started on the 4th line due to needing to regain his game speed, has steadily worked his way up the lineup and has recently seen some playing time on the second line with Mangiapane, and the two seem to have good chemistry between them. Also, the additions of Blake Cole and Brad Richardson and the excellant play of Milan Lucic have really solidified the bottom six for the Flames.
So how do the Bruins defeat the Flames? They have to be patient and disciplined, and match the Flames on the defensive side of their game. While the Flames have a very good top line, the Bruins' top line is better and it needs to show up for this game. The Bruins need to key on shutting down the top line as well as Mangiapane. Tkachuk plays on the edge and often goes over it. The Bruins need to get under his skin and frustrate him, and then he will likely take some undisciplined penalties. Gaudreau can also be frustrated at times and make some mistakes. Also, Oliver Kylington, although vastly improved this season over last season, is probably the one weak link in the Flames' defense. He is young and inexperienced and while he has great skating abilities and offensive talents, he can at times be exposed by the opposing team's offense.
Overall, I think this has the potential to be a hard-fought game, if both teams bring their best game. The Bruins can beat the Flames as long as they play their best and don't take the Flames lightly.