Sliding Flames take on Blackhawks in Windy City

( – Many folks have been waiting for the Calgary Flames to
fall off the pace after their impressive start to the season. Calgary hopes to
quiet some of those detractors by avoiding a fifth straight loss when it
visits the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

The Flames were expected by some to challenge for the league’s worst record in
2014-15 before jumping out to a 17-8-2 start. Calgary has cooled off
considerably in December, however, losing four straight in regulation after
only dropping two in a row once before this season from Oct. 25-28.

On Sunday, the Flames have an excellent chance to prove their mettle when they
take on the Blackhawks, one of the top teams in the West and a conference
finalist in last season’s playoffs.

Tonight’s clash is the third and final regular-season meeting between these
clubs. Calgary notched a 2-1 overtime win in Chicago on Oct. 15 before the
Blackhawks answered with a 4-3 road win on Nov. 20.

Chicago has won five of the last eight in this series overall, but the Flames
have taken two in a row in the Windy City. Calgary had lost 10 in a row at
United Center before claiming the past two road encounters against the
Blackhawks in overtime.

Calgary hopes to salvage a four-game road trip with a win tonight. The Flames
played on back-to-back nights earlier this week in Buffalo and Pittsburgh,
losing 4-3 to the Sabres on Thursday before falling 3-1 the next evening
against the Penguins.

Pittsburgh was able to defeat the Flames despite playing without captain and
star centerman Sidney Crosby, who was sitting due to an illness. Blake Comeau
and Kris Letang helped pick up for Crosby’s absence, posting early scores to
put up all the offense the Pens would need.

Johnny Gaudreau notched the lone goal for the Flames, while Jonas Hiller made
just 19 saves in the setback.

“We needed to play more in their zone, get more guys in front of the net and
go to the dirty areas,” Flames forward Paul Byron said. “It looks like other
teams are scoring those goals right in the paint and we’re not getting enough
of those.”

Calgary defenseman Ladislav Smid left the game in the second period with an
upper-body injury and did not return. Smid was injured when Pittsburgh
defenseman Simon Despres delivered a high check that resulted in the Flames
blueliner taking an elbow to the head.

Smid was placed on injured reserve Saturday while defenseman Corey Potter was
recalled from the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League.

Karri Ramo could get the start in net tonight. He is 1-1-0 with a 3.70 goals
against average in his career against Chicago.

The Flames are next in action on Tuesday when they host the New York Rangers
at the start of a two-game homestand. Calgary is 9-8-0 on the road this season
compared to an 8-4-2 mark as the host.

Chicago will be eager to get back in the win column tonight after having a
season-high eight-game winning streak halted Saturday with a 3-2 loss against
the New York Islanders.

The Blackhawks grabbed a 2-1 lead with Patrick Kane’s goal early in the third
period on Long Island. However, Kyle Okposo and Lubomir Visnovsky tallied 51
seconds apart midway through the final stanza to grab the lead for good and
cool off Chicago.

“Sometimes maybe you think you’re a little bit better than you really are.
This is definitely a wake-up call,” Kane admitted.

Dan Carcillo also scored for the Blackhawks, while Scott Darling took the loss
despite making 38 saves.

Antti Raanta could get the call in net for Chicago tonight. He has a 1-0
record and a 3.98 GAA in just two career appearances versus the Flames.

Chicago owns a 9-3-1 record on home ice and is playing two straight and four
of its next five at the United Center. The Blackhawks have won five in a row
as the host and haven’t lost in the Windy City since falling to Washington on
Nov. 7.