Flames Struggle to Play With the Lead Again in First Loss of the Season

The Calgary Flames came out strong and looked alive in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets, but the game began trending in the wrong direction for the Flames shortly into the second frame. That theme is becoming all too predictable in recent years – the Flames can’t seem to make things easy for themselves under pressure, as giving up leads and points continue to plague this organization.

Flames fans are none too thrilled, either. Their last serving of heartbreak was so identical to the loss against the Jets, but in this instance, in playoffs. The Flames were up 3-1 at the end of the first period against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of their first-round series, but completely fell off the rails after the opening stanza, losing 7-3.

The Flames have proven that playing under pressure is their weakness, as they don’t seem to play confidently with the lead. Since 1990, the Flames have only advanced past the first round twice, and when it comes to season-opening games, the club has dropped an astounding 11 straight. (From ‘Goalie Markstrom snags point for Flames despite season-opening loss,’ Calgary Sun, 1/15/21)

Pressure on the Line

The Flames had plenty to prove on opening night, but after choking away a lead again, it looks like there is a need for improvements. Rasmus Andersson had a glorious opportunity to make it 2-0 for the Flames early into the first, but he was robbed by former Flame defenseman Derek Forbort. That goal-line save by Forbort led to a breakaway goal for Jets forward Patrick Laine, who played lights out against Calgary.

Calgary Flames goaltender David Rittich
Winnipeg Jets’ Bryan Little leaps in front of Calgary Flames goaltender David Rittich as Travis Hamonic defends. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

The Jets propelled the scoring on their first shift of the second period, and from that point on, the Flames struggled to get the right bounces, and couldn’t gain any momentum, as they watched their lead turn into a loss. The Jets looked like the better team during the second, third, and overtime periods. They out-shot the Flames 34-26, and it was Laine again who seemed to be all over the Flames, who scored the game-winner off of his own rebound in sudden-death overtime.

I really enjoyed the play of a few Flames against the Jets. I felt Chris Tanev had a real stand-out performance, as he earned an assist, was a plus-one, and logged 20:22 of ice time. I also thought that, as expected, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Johnny Gaudreau also had solid outings, as each of them found the back of the net, but it wasn’t enough from the entire group.

Remember the Comebacks?

Once upon a time, the Flames were known around the league as “the cardiac kids.” They earned the reputation in the 2014-15 season for their willingness and determination to never say die. It would also become second nature to Flames fans in those days that when the team would fall behind by a few goals, they still had a sense of optimism, because the team proved they loved to play on the edge, and bring the excitement.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, the narrative has completely changed. Over the last few seasons, the ability to play spoiler and steal games has slowly faded, and now, it is playing with the lead that seems to bring anxiety and tension to the Flames and their supporters. Nothing is worse than feeling a lack of trust and confidence within a group, but if the Flames want to be successful, during the regular season and in the playoffs, they need to calm the nerves and focus on what they can control.

Let’s Try That Again

Despite not cleaning up their season-opening record, which now slides to a 10-24-7 mark, the Flames will have a chance to improve their home-opening record right away. They’ve won three straight home openers at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and they’ll have a chance to make it four against the team they beat in last year’s home opener, the Vancouver Canucks.

Jacob Markstrom Vancouver Canucks
Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The test will be especially memorable for former Canucks Tanev, Josh Leivo, and Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom’s first full season in Calgary’s crease means the expectations to perform well – and not just against his former team, but against all teams – are mounting. The anxiety that comes with the expectations is something the Flames need to find their way around.

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