It may not have been the start everyone was expecting from the Calgary Flames, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first week of the regular season has gone surprisingly well for a team just embarking upon a rebuild. In fact, so far the Flames are undefeated in regulation.
Granted, two out of three of the games have been losses, and the goals against is a little high, but as far as opening weeks go, the Flames have had a good one.
In the season opener, the Flames went head to head against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Those expecting a blowout from the reigning Hart Trophy winner and his elite team were surprised at the pace at which the game began. The Flames outskated and outplayed the Caps, with newbie Sean Monahan picking up his very first NHL point, assisting on David Jones’ snapshot to open up the scoring in the first. Lee Stempniak and Jiri Hudler added a couple of goals of their own, and heading into the second, the Flames were sitting pretty with a three-goal lead.
Karri Ramo had big shoes to fill as the starting goalie for the night. The Finnish heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff’s throne (which appears to be unoccupied for the time being) looked solid on the ice, stopping all 12 of the Capitals’ shots in the first.
The netminder’s confidence boost was short-lived, however, and so was the spark that had the Flames dominating the Caps in the first period. What could have been seen as inevitable began to unfold in the second frame, starting with 19-year old Connor Carrick’s first NHL goal, which put Washington on the board seven minutes in. And it was all Caps from there. Lance Bouma scored the lone goal for Calgary, while Alex Ovechkin played catch-up for his team, bringing the Capitals to within one as the period closed out.
And although Ramo stopped a barrage of shots in the third, it only took one wrister from Nicklas Backstrom to send the game into overtime.
The extra frame solved nothing, and the first round of the shootout deemed the Capitals the victors of the night.
Despite blowing a 3-0 lead, the contest between the Flames and Capitals was not as unevenly matched as predicted. The Flames youth played with grit and high energy, and it was a shame that the ice time for youngsters like Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan decreased as the game went on. But the firepower of Alex Ovechkin (who skated away with 2 goals, 1 assist and a shootout goal that night) proved to be too much for a roster as green around the edges as the Flames. Calgary fell to Washington 5-4.
The Flames looked to redeem themselves against the Blue Jackets the very next day in Columbus’ home opener, this time with Joey MacDonald starting in net. Again, Sean Monahan wasted no time trying to solidify a permanent spot on the roster, and drew first blood for the Flames with a wrist shot less than three minutes into the game. And again, Calgary’s youngsters looked to make a statement, playing with tenacity and obvious heart.
Columbus and Calgary traded goals twice each throughout the first period, with the second Flames goal courtesy of a gorgeous backhand breakaway shot by T.J. Galiardi.
Both teams were held scoreless in the second, but in the third, veterans Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross scored the tie-breaking and go-ahead goals.
Although Marian Gaborik brought the Blue Jackets to within one with less than five minutes left to play, the Flames remained lively and aggressive, managing to hold on to the lead and win the game 4-3.
The Flames home opener was a big one, with division rival the Vancouver Canucks in town to play in the newly renovated Saddledome. Just like in the season opener, the ice was not tilted towards the Flames end as most would have expected. The Canucks may have had big names like the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa dressed for the night but the Flames put up a good fight, regardless of the end result of the game.
David Booth put the Canucks up on the board first, early in the opening frame but newly-minted captain Mark Giordano got the equalizer before the period ended. Giordano has been proving his worth as captain, with an unusually quick and impressive start to the season, something the 30-year old hasn’t done in several seasons past.
Mikael Backlund’s backhander in the second (the only goal of the period and his first of the season), came 11 minutes in and gave the Flames the lead going into the final frame.
Riding high with 2 points in as many games, Sean Monahan continued his streak in the opening minutes of the third, adding to Calgary’s lead. Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long, as the Canucks scored three unanswered goals shortly after. A late wrister by David Jones kept the game from ending in regulation.
The extra frame was a quick one, as Mike Santorelli’s deflected shot nabbed the victory for the Canucks. However, the Flames managed to pick up a point for a third straight game, and though the overtime loss stung, the team was able to take away valuable lessons from the little mistakes made that led to the loss.
Three points in three games is not a bad start for Calgary. And while it is much too soon to start imagining post-season successes (it has, after all, only been one week), it is evident that a blue-collar ethic and a fresh injection of youth is revitalizing a team that was up until recently seen as old and crumbling.
Stay tuned for Week Two of The Flames Files and follow the Calgary Flames’ progress in the 2013-2014 season.
Graduate of Mount Royal University’s Journalism program and a freelance sports writer from Calgary, Alberta.