|Surging Flames ready to host confident Maple Leafs|
Two teams who are thriving under new coaches meet Thursday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Calgary Flames.
The Flames are on a 7-0-1 surge after winning their sixth in a row for interim coach Geoff Ward on Tuesday night when they defeated the host Arizona Coyotes 5-2. Ward replaced Bill Peters on Nov. 29.
The Maple Leafs won their second in a row Tuesday night, 4-1 against the host Vancouver Canucks and are 6-3-0 since Sheldon Keefe took over from Mike Babcock as coach on Nov. 20.
"We're only not even halfway through the season yet, so there's still a lot of ground to go," said Flames backup netminder Cam Talbot, who made 46 saves Tuesday in his eighth start of the season.
"But it's extremely gratifying to know that when we're playing the right way and everyone is buying in, this is how successful we can be."
The Flames are getting results throughout their roster.
Calgary's leading scorer, Matthew Tkachuk (12 goals, 15 assists), did not play Tuesday because of an upper-body injury. That brought Zac Rinaldo into the lineup for only the fifth time this season and he had a goal and an assist. Tkachuk, who was injured Monday in the 5-4 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche, is listed as day-to-day.
"You work hard, you'll eventually get rewarded," Rinaldo said. "And when you get rewarded for working hard, things open up and things become a little easier to you. That's what is happening right now. Our whole team has worked so hard to get to this point, and the floodgates are kind of opening for us."
Tkachuk had a goal and an assist Monday to become the ninth U.S. born player to reach 200 career points before his 22nd birthday. The others are Jimmy Carson, Bobby Carpenter, Phil Housley, Ed Olczyk, Patrick Kane, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Modano and Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who scored his 19th goal this season in Vancouver.
The key to Toronto's win over Vancouver was the goaltending of Frederik Andersen, who made 38 saves including two on breakaways by Vancouver's Brock Boeser and another on a dangerous deflection by J.T. Miller.
"It just gives our team confidence," Keefe said. "We know if we make a mistake he's going to be there. Obviously, we don't want to have to rely on him like we did on the breakaways. It's great that he was up to the challenge for us, of course, those are game-changing saves that you need."
"It's fun to make those saves, be a difference-maker, help the team," said Andersen, who recorded his 199th NHL win on Tuesday.
"(Andersen has) been great for us," Matthews said. "Ideally, we probably don't want to see him make five breakaway saves in one game, but that's just a credit to him. He was just dialed in, huge saves tonight for us to keep that lead for us and then a couple big goals by Johnny (Tavares)."
Tavares had two goals and an assist Tuesday to help guarantee the Maple Leafs at least a split in their four-game road trip that started Saturday with a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues.
--Field Level Media