This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
How many temperature jokes can you think of that describes the Flames' nine-game winning streak? Brian Elliott has now won 11 of his past 14 games after winning just three of his first 13 games to start the season, putting the worst behind him and leading Calgary's charge up the standings. How drastic has their improvement been? According to sportsclubstats.com, the Flames' chances of making the playoffs dipped below 20 percent in early December, but after last night's 3-0 win against the Jets, now have a 94.6 percent chance of qualifying. They're now second in the Pacific Division with a three-win lead on the Ducks, even though both teams have 80 points apiece.
Now, all streaks must come to an end, but keep in mind that the one constant all season has been Glen Gulutzan, who's handled himself well in his first season despite lots of pressure at the beginning of the season to win right away, and also that Calgary has done a very good job of fixing its blue line, getting rid of Nicklas Grossmann and Jyrki Jokipakka, banishing Dennis Wideman to the press box, leaving Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon in the AHL to develop, and getting Michael Stone at a decent bargain.
The Flames have the pieces to be a pretty good team, but they need that goaltending to hold.
Wild (PP: 9, PK: 7) at Blackhawks (PP: 17, PK: 27), 12:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Devan Dubnyk (36-14-3, 2.03, .932), Corey Crawford (26-15-3, 2.55, .918)
Key Injuries:Scott Darling (hand), Victor Bartley (triceps), Christian Folin (arm), Gustav Olofsson (upper body)
The battle for Central Division supremacy! Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin have combined for 10 points in their past five games, but Minnesota is still the favorite and have the higher ground with a three-point lead. The key difference will be in net – in a season where Dubnyk has been a workhorse and a virtual lock for a Vezina nomination, Crawford will likely fail to appear in at least 60 games again due to various injuries, and he's currently posting the worst numbers in five seasons. Chicago's goaltending situation will be something to watch for down the stretch and during the playoffs because Darling, who is nursing a short-term upper-body injury, has looked far better for much of the season.
Canadiens (PP: 11, PK: 19) at Oilers (PP: 7, PK: 23), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Carey Price (30-16-5, 2.28, .923), Cam Talbot (33-19-8, 2.39, .919)
Key Injuries:Tyler Pitlick (knee), Brian Flynn (upper body), Tomas Plekanec (upper body), Carey Price (illness)
If there's some sort of Canada-only Stanley Cup Final this season, not only would Gary Bettman tear out whatever few hairs he has left, this would probably be the most likely matchup. As of late Saturday, Claude Julien has not named his starter for the game, but in all likelihood it will be Price, who missed Thursday's game with the flu but was a full participant in practice Saturday morning. Julien also put Max Pacioretty with Philip Danault and Alex Galchenyuk with Alexander Radulov, which spreads out the scoring a little bit but also makes it harder to guess which line will face McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Brandon Davidson is expected to be the healthy scratch for the Habs as Alexei Emelin and Jordie Benn stay in the lineup. A win for the Habs puts them back in first place in the Atlantic Division, which avoids a first-round matchup against the pesky Senators or the rival Bruins.
Capitals (PP: 8, PK: 6) at Ducks (PP: 16, PK: 3), 9:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Braden Holtby (34-10-5, 1.97, .928), John Gibson (23-16-8, 2.28, .921)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Nick Ritchie (neck), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Antoine Vermette (suspension), Andre Burakovsky (hand)
Let's be honest here – the Ducks aren't as good as everyone thought they'd be, and the Capitals are just as good as everyone thought they'd be. The division title is out of reach for the Ducks, sitting seven points behind the Sharks and losing half of their past 10 games, and while the Caps are on a three-game losing streak, still sit atop the Metro Division and remain the leading candidate to win the Presidents' Trophy. One thing of note that will help Gibson get a better night's sleep: Alex Ovechkin is in quite the slump, having failed to score an even-strength goal in more than 15 games and was taken off Nicklas Backstrom's line at practice. With just 27 goals this season, his quest for his fourth straight 50-goal season will likely fall short. Ovi will break out, but the Ducks allow the 10th-fewest shots per game.
Rangers (PP: 18, PK: 14) at Red Wings (PP: 30, PK: 13), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Antti Raanta (13-6-0, 2.32, .922), Petr Mrazek (15-18-7, 2.99, .901)
Key Injuries:Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), Ryan Sproul (knee), Jesper Fast (shoulder), Dan Girardi (ankle), Michael Grabner (hip), Kevin Klein (back), Henrik Lundqvist (lower body), Rick Nash (upper body)
Other than a shared history that stretches back to the Original Six era, there's not much the two teams have in common at the moment. The Rangers are almost assured of a playoff spot while the Wings will miss the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons, tying the 1980-2004 Blues for the third-longest postseason streak in the NHL. It also bears mentioning that Lundqvist won't be back for another two or three weeks, meaning Raanta could be the starter for the rest of the regular season. It's a good thing Raanta's been playing the best of his career, and he's almost guaranteed to set career-highs in games, wins, saves and shutouts by the end of the season. Of course, no matter how unbelievable Raanta's been playing, once Lundqvist returns he'll have to cede the throne to the rightful king.
Stars (PP: 19, PK: 30) at Sharks (PP: 24, PK: 12), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Kari Lehtonen (16-20-6, 2.91, .904), Aaron Dell (9-3-1, 1.88, .935)
Key Injuries:Ales Hemsky (undisclosed), Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (hand), David Schlemko (lower body)
Martin Jones played last night which is why Dell gets the nod, while the Stars will be going wit – ah, heck, does it even matter? Keep in mind that the Stars offense hasn't been nearly as dangerous this year, so if their goalies start being sieves it won't be as easy to mount comebacks. The Sharks are quietly putting together a brilliant season with a conference-best 157 goals against and just 11 points shy of tying last season's points total with 15 games to play.
Conor Sheary, LW/RW, PIT – He's scored two goals and four assists in five games since returning to the lineup, and it's not a coincidence the Pens are on a five-game winning streak either. He's been a fixture next to Sidney Crosby, which is obviously the best thing that's going to ever happen to his career, and played close to 21 minutes against Vancouver last night, finishing with eight shots on goal. He's available in over 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. Hop to it!