This weekend the Inferno will host Les Canadiennes in their last regular season series before the Clarkson Cup Playoffs. It’s hard to imagine a better way to finish off the year. Calgary and Montreal, the CWHL’s two powerhouse franchises, are on a collision course to meet in the Clarkson Cup Final for a second straight year.
The Inferno have a 2-2-0 record against Les Canadiennes this year, but one of those wins came in overtime. That means that Montreal has the edge in the season series, but two games in Calgary to close out the regular season could change that.
“We’re in first place and Montreal’s in second right now,” Rebecca Johnston said during an interview on Flames TV. “It’s going to be a tight weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but it’s definitely important for us to get two wins out of the weekend.”
A Healthy Johnston
Johnston is one of the players that has put Calgary in first place this year. After missing 20 games last season, she missed just two games this year with international duty.
A healthy Johnston is a force to be reckoned with and is one of the reasons why the Inferno are favorites to win their second Clarkson Cup. She led her team in playoff scoring last year with four goals and five assists in three games. And that was after missing over four months of the regular season.
Courtney Birchard says Marie-Philip Poulin is easy to play against, but Rebecca Johnston is hard to play against because she's fast.
— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) February 11, 2017
In 18 games this season Johnston has the sixth-best points per game average in the CWHL. But more importantly, she always plays her best against Montreal. Johnston has five goals and five assists in her last seven games (including last year’s Clarkson Cup Final) against Les Canadiennes.
Three Scoring Lines
Of course, Johnston isn’t Calgary’s only weapon. And even though the Inferno lost Hayley Wickenheiser to retirement, the team still boasts incredible depth scoring. Calgary has something that no other CWHL team has: three scoring lines.
The Inferno have the deepest and most dangerous offense in the league. How do we know this? Calgary has 11 skaters in the CWHL’s top 25 scorers. Montreal has six. The Inferno also have a 4.28 average goals per game this year. Montreal has a 3.90 goals per game average.
Brianne Jenner and Bailey Bram are having stellar years for Calgary. Johnston, Jenner and Bram are all averaging over a point per game and they’re not alone. Newcomer Iya Gavrilova is second on the team with 11 goals in 18 games. The 29-year-old Russian import is a candidate for the CWHL Rookie of the Year.
The Inferno have more forwards with 10 or more points than any other CWHL team. Calgary averages a peerless 4.00 even strength goals per game. If the first and second line don’t get the job done, the third line almost certainly will.
The Three-Headed Monster
As if the best offense in the CWHL wasn’t enough, Calgary also has an improved blue line from last year and the best goaltending in the league. No team has allowed fewer goals this year and one of the reasons why is Calgary has three different starting goaltenders.
The Inferno have three of the top five goaltenders in save percentage this year, including rookie superstar Emerance Maschmeyer. And although Les Canadiennes de Montreal have the most shutouts this year, Maschmeyer is the goalie with the top save percentage in the CWHL.
The Harvard alum has a 0.938 save percentage against Montreal this year in two games. The international stars on Les Canadiennes are familiar with Maschmeyer, but that familiarity isn’t enough to tip the scales in their favor. She just might be the best goalie in women’s hockey.
When it’s not Maschmeyer in net for Calgary, it’s 2016 Clarkson Cup MVP Delayne Brian or veteran Genevieve Lacasse. Both goalies are undefeated this year, although Lacasse has allowed seven goals in two games against Montreal and Brian has yet to play Les Canadiennes this year.
Regardless of who is in net this weekend or in the postseason, Calgary knows it has outstanding goaltending to rely on. It allows the Inferno to play fast, aggressive hockey and keep the pressure on.
That is how Calgary won the Clarkson Cup last March. And that is how they will win it again this year.