Flames Weekly is our new series on how the Calgary Flames performed the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for our take on the week that was and find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let us know how you thought the team performed this past week or to post any other ideas or questions you have about the Flames.
What the Flames Faced at the Start of the Week
The previous week the Cowtown boys dropped three of four matchups, and two of them were to the lowly Ottawa Senators. You read that right. Two. In a row. To Ottawa. Ugh.
Ever hopeful, some fans on Monday morning were pointing out that the boys in red were just two points back of the Montreal Canadiens – owners of the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division (I didn’t know pot shops opened that early in Calgary). The buzz kill, of course, was that as of Monday, the Habs had five games in hand.
Those Calgary fans practicing sobriety on Monday mornings realized an appearance in the playoffs was unlikely. To hit the expected minimum of 65 points required to make the postseason, the Flames would need to win 15 of their final 20 games.
For perspective, that’s .750 hockey, and the Flames have never been much more than a .500 club this season. As for winning 15 of 20 remaining games, they struggled to win 15 of their first 35.
For all but the most loyal and passionate fans of the Flames, the talk in the Stampede City at the start of the week was all about trades, rebuilds, firings, draft picks and new player acquisitions in the off-season. Oh, and golf.
Winnipeg Jets – Monday Night
Winning Jets’ star centreman Mark Scheifele notched two goals and an assist to lead his team in a 5-1 pummeling of the Flames in their own barn. With this rubber match win, the Jets flew out of their three-game set in Cowtown with four of a possible six points.
Once again, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter sat in front of a postgame presser trying to explain another melt-down befitting Icarus. Matthew Tkachuk blamed the drubbing on his team’s inability to handle adversity, something with which Sutter agreed saying, “that falls on those players like that (Tkachuk and others) that have to take a little bit more charge. You could say we probably out-chanced them, but their top players had the better chances at five-on-five than our top players, and they sealed the deal.”
The Flames drew first blood with Elias Lindholm’s power-play goal just over two minutes into the first leg. He combined with Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau in a textbook “tic-tac-toe” passing play that beat Connor Hellebuyck cleanly.
While the Flames were engaged and brought a high-energy game to the Jets, they gave up the lead at 16:19 of the first stanza when Winnipeg centre Nate Thompson deflected a shot by Dylan DeMelo from the point past Flames number one goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Every Flame on the ice protested that Thompson had kicked the puck into the net, but the NHL Situation Room in Toronto ruled that the marker was a legal deflection. It was all downhill for the Flames from here.
Next, Kyle Connor fed Schiefele a pretty pass off a two-on-one rush that the star centreman put past Markstrom just after the 18-minute mark of the first period putting the Jets ahead 2 -1 heading into the second period. This was just one of many odd-man rushes the Flames gave up for which the Jets exacted a price.
Sutter felt the Thompson and Scheifele goals were the turning point in the game saying, “there was a little bit of a sag (after the Thompson goal) and then on the next goal (Schiefele’s) we lost him on the backcheck. And when they switched lines around putting Schiefele with the two-speed guys with Nikolaj Ehlers and either Andrew Copp or Kyle Connors, I thought these three guys took the game over. We didn’t handle these guys well.”
Just three-and-a-half minutes into the second period, the Jets’ speedsters showed just how devastating they could be when Schiefele notched his second goal of the game, picking up his own rebound on a snapshot he took standing all alone in the slot. Ehlers and Connor picked up assists on the play, but it was the Calgary defence that deserved all the credit after completely missing their assignment on Scheifele.
With just over five minutes to go in the second period, Copp ticked the twine at the back of Markstrom’s net on a beautiful tip-in that capped off a three-on-two rush that all started back in the Calgary zone when Lindholm had a hard time corralling the puck. Scheifele and Ehlers put on a passing clinic in their supporting roles on the goal.
The boys in red got away from the Sutter system in the second period and looked like they thought they could outgun the Jets. Yet, at least one member of the Flames knew better, as Brett Ritchie explained, “they scored one or two, and we stopped checking. We’re not a team that can trade chances with some of the high offensive teams in this Division.”
Their tires almost completely deflated, the Flames headed into the second intermission down by three with the Jets firmly in control and dictating the play.
In a surprise move to start the third frame, Sutter replaced Markstrom with alternate netminder David Rittich. Raising eyebrows in Cowtown because Sutter had previously said he does not believe in yanking goaltenders explaining, “that’s a slap in the face.” Sutter said he had decided to pull Markstrom halfway through the second frame, but needed to give Big Save Dave some time to ready himself.
At the 1:04 mark of the third period, Pierre-Luc Dubois picked up a pass from Blake Wheeler and waltzed in unmolested from the point to rifle a wrister into the back of Rittich’s net. Calgary fans spent the rest of the period looking for Netflix recommendations on their Twitter feeds to spare themselves having to witness the Jets sitting on a 5-1 lead and slowly strangling the Flames to death.
Nothing went Calgary’s way Monday night, and they probably deserved a better fate. They simply ran into Vezina Trophy winner Hellebuyck and some of the most potent offensive weapons in the NHL – Scheifle, Ehlers and Connor.
Vancouver Canucks: Wednesday Night Game Cancelled Over Covid-19 Concerns
Medical teams from the league, the Vancouver Canucks and the National Hockey League Players’ Association cancelled Wednesday night’s game between the team and the Flames when it was learned that Vancouver forward Adam Gaudette was pulled from Tuesday morning practice and added to the NHL Covid-19 protocol list. He joined defenseman Travis Hamonic and a member of the coaching staff on that list.
Thursday, the NHL said it expected the Canucks to resume play on April 8th, but no practices would take place before April 6th.
By Sunday, TSN was reporting that over 20 players and three members of the coaching staff were infected and the virus was spreading to their family members. The Canucks’ schedule is expected to be pushed back further.
Edmonton Oilers – Friday Night
With Connor McDavid’s goal late in the third period, the Oilers edged out the Flames 3-2 in a hard-fought tilt at Edmonton’s Rogers Centre.
Explaining yet another loss in a postgame presser, Sutter emphasized that his club doesn’t have the firepower to win a shootout with teams the calibre of Edmonton saying, “you have to play a total team-concept checking game to beat those top teams.” Comparing the two teams’ offence, he said the Oilers have “(Leon) Draisaitl, who was the MVP (most valuable player) last year. and Connor McDavid is probably the MVP this year, and they are first and second in scoring.”
A glum Tkachuk summed up Calgary’s feelings after the loss saying, “this has happened to us a couple of times against these guys in this rink – it’s an even game and they score late. And they come out of here with two and we come out of here with absolutely nothing.”
McDavid has been a Flames killer from the very start of his career, and Friday night was no exception. With the game tied at two and the Oilers on a power play with seven minutes remaining in the third period, Draisaitl beat Lindholm cleanly on a faceoff to put the puck back to McDavid in the slot, who then launched a wrister that found its way to the back of the net under Markstrom’s right arm. It’s probably one Markstrom would like back.
The Flames had a promising start to the game scoring the first goal at 12:33 of the first leg on a slapshot from the point by Michael Stone that must have seemed like a lightning bolt from the hand of Zeus to Oilers’ twine minder Mike Smith. The play started with Andrew Mangiapane’s relentless forechecking that forced a turnover that he shovelled back to the blue line to set Stone up for what would be his first marker in over a year.
Heading into the dressing room at the end of the first, the Flames were up by one with the momentum on their side. While the Oilers outshot the Flames 14-8, the boys in red outclassed the Oilers on faceoff wins, blocks and hits. Not only that, but Markstrom looked to have regained his form.
With Flames defenseman Chris Tanev in the sin bin, the Oilers tied the game at 1:19 of the second frame when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins backhanded home a rebound Markstrom gave up. The McDavid-Draisaital tandem combined on a beautiful display of tic-tac-toe passing to set Nugent-Hopkins up on the goal.
The Flames didn’t let up after the goal and pushed the pace of play to a higher tempo. They were rewarded at 5:25 of the second when Sam Bennett fed a beautiful pass to Tkachuk, escaping from the penalty box to set him up on a breakaway on which he beat Smith on the backhand.
With the play dead even and going back and forth, the Oilers’ Dominik Kahun slid a puck through Markstrom’s open side to ignite the red light and tie the game at 11:20 of the second to tie the game. Ethan Bear and Kailer Yamamoto united on yet another Oilers’ display of precision passing to pull Markstrom out of position and set up Kahun.
The Flames played a good game Friday night but still fell to 2-5-0 in the Battle of Alberta this season. They managed to keep McDavid bottled up for most of the night, but in the end, just couldn’t keep him there. They headed into Easter Sunday’s match against the Leafs six points back of the Canadiens.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Sunday Night
Leafs’ captain John Tavares and scoring machine Auston Matthews each potted third-period goals to lead their team to a 4-2 victory over the Flames in the Saddledome. Once again, the boys in red learned the hard way that to win, they need to play a full 60 minutes.
Aside from a poor start, the Flames were solid in the first 40 but didn’t show up for the final leg of the contest. Sutter blamed the loss on third-period mistakes saying, “we made a rush-related mistake in the third on the third goal and turned the puck over on the fourth goal and their two big centremen (Tavares and Matthews) scored goals and put the game away for them.”
With a 2-8-0 record in their last ten games, the Flames appear to be what their record says they are – just another team that’s not good enough to win in today’s NHL. To that, Sutter explained in the postgame presser that his team “has to play at a pace and you have to be able to execute at that pace and you have to be able to check at that pace and for some of our players that’s difficult.” I hear the sounds of bags being packed in Calgary – stay tuned.
The two goals that torpedoed the Flames came two minutes and thirty seconds apart before the 10-minute mark of the third frame. Tavares was credited with the third goal even though all the work was done by Flames’ defenseman Noah Hanifin.
As the Leafs tore through the neutral zone, William Nylander slipped past the Calgary defense unnoticed as Hanifin focused on Tavares. With a pass from the Leafs’ captain on his stick, Nylander ripped a shot on net. Big Save Dave gave up a rebound that Tavares shot wide, but that found its way into the back of Calgary’s net off Hanifin’s skate. While that put the Flames down by one, they still had 13 minutes remaining in the game to make things right.
Tkachuk apparently had other ideas and bollixed a zone clearing attempt turning over the puck at the Flames’ blue line to Zach Hyman. He then pushed the puck down low to Mitch Marner, who then set Matthews up in the slot for his seventh point in his last five games.
The Leafs dominated the third period and hung on through the final three minutes of six-on-five hockey to take the first of their two-game set in Cowtown. Had it not been for their flurry of desperate shots in the final three minutes the Flames would have been outshot by a two-to-one margin in the third.
As has been there won’t all season, the Flames gave up the first goal less than a minute into the first leg when Hanifin botched a zone clearing attempt along the boards and turned the puck over to Matthews. The Calgary defense corps lost track of a trailing Morgan Reilly, but Matthews found him putting the puck on the tape of his stick and setting him up to snap a wrister past Rittich.
The Flames fourth-liner Joakim Nordstrom answered back for the Flames just past the halfway point of the first when he tipped a blast from Mark Giordano from the point. The goal was the Swede’s first while wearing the Flaming C.
The assist Giordano picked up on the play marked his 500th point in his long career making good on a promise he made to his son that he would notch that milestone to mark the eight-year-old’s birthday on Sunday. The point places the Flames’ captain among other franchise greats who scored 500 or more points including, Jarome Iginla, Theo Fleury, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Sutter and Gary Roberts.
Andrew Mangiapane put the Flames ahead with just 40 seconds to go in the first stanza on a wrist shot from the slot. The play all started thanks to Milan Lucic forcing the Leafs to cough up the puck on the forecheck giving Michael Backlund the chance to recover the rubber and set up Mangiapane. The goal was the “bread eater’s” 11th of the season making him the second-highest goal scorer on the team behind Gaudreau.
The Flames continued their domination of the Leafs in the second period, allowing them just one shot on goal in the first half of the frame. They brought a tough, physical, tight-checking game to the Leafs and by the period’s end had racked up 13 shots on goal compared to the Leafs’ six.
Yet, the Leafs held the boys in red off the scoreboard and with just under three minutes left in the second frame, they tied the game on a goal by Alex Galchenyuk – his first wearing the Maple Leaf. The goal came at the end of a passing clinic put on by Taveres and Nylander, who drew Rittich to one side of the net leaving Galchenyuk all alone to slam a goal between the Calgary pipes. Rittich had no chance on the play.
In the postgame media session, Rittich was asked if he thought he may have played his last game in a Flames uniform. Irked and terse he told the reporter, “don’t try and make a story here. This is my team and I want to try to stay here as long as I can.”
The Flames headed into Monday night’s rematch with the Buds six points back of the fourth-placed Habs with their playoff hopes little more than a slim mathematical possibility.
Studs and Duds of the Week
Dud – Markstrom in Monday night’s 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Jets. The four goals he allowed on 23 shots dropped his record as of that game to an underwhelming 12-12-2 on the season. As of Monday, he had lost five of his previous six games and given up 18 goals.
Stud – Stone for his first goal in over a year Friday night against the Oilers
Dud – Hannifin for a turnover and losing track of Nylander, costing the Flames two goals Sunday night.
Stud – Mark Giordano for making good on a birthday promise to his son and becoming a member of the Flames’ 500 point club.
Stud – Mangiapane for potting his 11th goal on the season demonstrating the adage that “somebody has to step up”.
Stud – Nordstrom. Not just for his goal Sunday night against the Leafs, but for the energy and grit he brought to the game
The Week Ahead
In all likelihood, the Flames will have just one game this week – Monday night against their guests from Hogtown. Their scheduled games Thursday and Saturday with the Canucks are likely cancelled.
How long the coronavirus will keep the Canucks out of play is unclear as this is being written. The situation in Vancouver is bigger than hockey and we can only send our thoughts and prayers to the Canucks and wish all those whom the virus has sickened a speedy return to good health.
This week was a dumpster fire for the Flames. With the playoffs out of reach, I would be shocked if I didn’t see players soon booking one-way tickets out of the Stampede City for parts as yet unknown.
For more discussion on likely action at the trade deadline in Calgary, you can check out this week’s edition of the Flames Faceoff, where every week I along with other writers with The Hockey Writers discuss all things Flames!
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney