The Calgary Flames find themselves in the midst of a heated Western Conference playoff race coming out of the All-Star break. Bob Hartley is hoping better goaltending can help them end a five-year playoff drought.
They'll look to start the season's second half in strong fashion Tuesday night when they host the struggling Buffalo Sabres.
Calgary (25-19-3), a point ahead of Los Angeles for the West's second wild-card spot, won the first four on a five-game trip prior to a 6-3 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday. Goaltender Joni Ortio, who had limited opponents to five goals while starting the previous four games after being called up, gave up four goals on 11 shots.
Jonas Hiller, who hadn't started since facing 35 shots in a 6-5 loss to Florida on Jan. 9, stopped 14 of 15 shots in relief and will start Tuesday after Ortio was reassigned to Adirondack. Calgary's 2.64 goals-against average ranks third-worst among teams in playoff position, ahead of San Jose (2.67) and the Islanders (2.78).
"(Ortio) was playing really well and we were winning so no reason to change," Hiller told the team's official website. "At the end you want to have success as a team and we had that. Now I'll try to help the team to have more success. We're still in the picture. I think it's a great position we're in but from here it's not going to get easier."
All-Stars Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano continued their strong play in Sunday's exhibition with Gaudreau recording two assists and Giordano posting one. Gaudreau had four assists in his last five games before the break while Giordano, who leads all defensemen with 40 points, had a goal and three assists in his last four.
The Flames appear likely to avoid a season-high fourth straight home loss as they take on the last-place Sabres (14-30-3), who have lost 15 of 16 and a franchise-worst 11 in a row. All 11 losses have come in regulation, the most consecutively since Pittsburgh lost 13 straight from Jan. 13-Feb. 12, 2004.
Calgary has no power-play goals in a season-worst five straight games, coming up empty on 14 opportunities. Buffalo has given up 13 power-play goals on 36 chances during its losing streak, however, and allows opponents to score on a league-high 26.2 percent of chances.
The Sabres went into the break on a particularly sour note on Jan. 18 at Detroit, squandering a 3-0 first-period lead in a 6-4 loss. That defeat dropped them to 0-10-1 on the road since Dec. 4
"We gave our team an extra two days (off). It's been a real tough grind on all of us, trying to find our game and so forth. I think it did us real good," coach Ted Nolan said. "The guys were much fresher (Monday) on the ice, their spirits were more lifted. It's one of those things where it's good to get away and forget about it and start fresh."
Buffalo has been without right wing Brian Gionta (concussion) and defenseman Mike Weber (lower body) for the last 13 and two games, respectively, but both are expected to return.
Rookie Nikita Zadorov, tied for the team lead among defensemen with eight points, was suspended for failing to report to the team on time following the All-Star break.
The Flames lost 4-3 at Buffalo on Dec. 11 despite a 45-19 advantage in shots, their biggest advantage in a loss since outshooting Chicago 47-19 in a 3-2 road shootout defeat on Feb. 2, 2013. They've won six of the last seven meetings in Calgary, however.