Yes, you read that headline correctly. Dan Vladar and Adam Werner entered Calgary Flames training camp as the top two candidates to back up number one netminder Jacob Markstrom this season, and without their heroics between the pipes last night, the final score could have easily been 8-0. Yup, that’s how badly the Edmonton Oilers outplayed the boys in red in front of a fully-vaccinated crowd of about 9,000 fans… fans who have waited patiently for 567 days to see live NHL hockey return to the Scotiabank Saddledome. Too bad the Flames looked decidedly more like an American Hockey League franchise.
The opening minutes actually saw the Flames start out with some real pep in their step, including a nifty scoring chance set up by a streaking Dillon Dube, but as soon as the Oilers got their bearings, it was all Edmonton. Not only did the visiting squad outshoot Calgary, they “out-everythinged” them – great puck support, solid breakout plays, hard forechecking and superior speed. It wasn’t close.
Oilers Outshoot the Flames 49-15, Keeping Both Goalies Extremely Busy
All of this led to a crazy busy night for the Flames’ two goaltenders scheduled to share the net. Vladar stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period and 8 of 10 in the second stanza before being replaced by Werner about 10 minutes into the period. And I must say, a few of those saves were all-world, including this incredible reverse double pad stack just a few minutes before he swapped places with Werner.
Vladar would be named the game’s third star, but Werner actually faced more pucks after entering the game. The 24-year-old Swede got peppered with 11 shots in the second and 15 more in the third, including a series of great stops in the final two minutes, when the Oilers were really pressing, rubbing salt into the wound and trying to make it a 5-0 game. He finished his night stopping 24 of 26 shots in only a period and a half of work. Not too shabby.
There were times in the second period when Edmonton was cycling the puck so easily, they kind of looked like the Harlem Globetrotters. Yes, that’s how badly they outplayed the Flames – with a similar mix of young prospects and veteran players I might add. This was not a star-studded lineup that made the three-hour drive to Calgary down the QEII highway.
Parade to the Penalty Box Made Life Very Difficult for the Flames
Any time the Flames got even a sliver of momentum, someone would take a dumb penalty and derail any hope of getting back into the game. The home squad also found themselves in a deeper hole after taking penalties immediately after getting scored on – something that makes it extremely hard to bounce back and counterpunch.
In all, Calgary took 14 penalty minutes to the Oilers four, which made evaluating individual performances and line combinations very difficult. None of the four forward lines looked in sync all night. Well, at least the penalty kill unit got a boatload of practice.
Former Flame Derek Ryan Had An Outstanding Game
It was truly odd to see Derek Ryan wearing Edmonton Oiler silks in his first game playing in the Saddledome since signing with the Flames’ provincial rivals in the offseason. The dependable centerman not only potted a nice power-play marker early in the second period, but he also set up youngster Xavier Bourgault for the Oilers’ third goal later in the frame. Ryan also played on the first PK unit and made some great defensive plays, helping render Calgary’s two power plays completely inert.
Ryan would be named the games’ first star, and I really don’t think the 34-year-old could have had a better home homecoming. Seeing how he completely outplayed the Flames’ Brad Richardson (his potential 4th line center replacement) must have made many Flames’ faithful green with envy, and wonder why general manager Brad Treliving didn’t try harder to re-sign the former University of Alberta Golden Bear.
The Flames’ New Defense Pairings Did Not Work
The Flames started the game with the following pairings: Nikita Zadorov/Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Välimäki/Erik Gudbranson, and Connor Mackey/Andy Welinski. None of these duos looked very good tonight, which doesn’t bode well for a coaching staff trying to figure out how to make the most of a blueline that just lost its number one defender (and captain) to the Seattle Kraken.
In the postgame presser, head coach Darryl Sutter told reporters that the Flames’ defencemen were “not good enough below the goal line to get the pucks and move pucks”. This made it exceedingly difficult to get into any kind of rhythm or to successfully break out of their zone. But, as bad as the D-core looked in general tonight, it seemed the Twitterverse saved its most scathing criticism for Gudbranson, who the Flames just signed for nearly $2 million for one year.
Gudbranson’s terrible giveaway led to the Oiler’s fourth goal of the night but it wasn’t his only blunder, and it also shines a bright spotlight on what could very well be the Flames’ biggest weakness as they head into their first campaign in well over a decade without Mark Giordano anchoring the back end. If Calgary’s recent signings can’t bolster this blueline, we could see one of the farm team prospects make the opening night roster after all.
The Oilers’ Prospects Definitely Outplayed the Flames’ Prospects
And speaking of prospects, leading into tonight’s Battle of Alberta, Sutter noted that there could be roster spots available to a few of the youngsters if they make the most of their preseason games and force their way onto the big club. Since training camp began, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the Flames’ 2019 first-round draft pick Jakob Pelletier. However, in his professional debut, the 20-year-old was practically invisible and when reporters asked Calgary’s bench boss to comment on his play, Sutter just chuckled and gave an uncharacteristically diplomatic response: “He’s a pretty young player in his first game.”
On the other side of the scoresheet, some of Edmonton’s top prospects had standout performances. First-rounder Bourgault had a goal and an assist in the second period while fellow first-round draft pick Evan Bouchard also had a great night. The 21-year-old defenceman actually led all Oilers with six shots, while logging over 22 minutes of ice time. It seemed none of the Flames’ top prospects made an impact but to be fair, none of the 18 skaters on the roster did anything to write home about. To bring this story back full circle, the only players who received any love from the head coach after the game were Vladar and Werner – the two bright spots in a very forgettable first preseason game of the year.
The Flames also got more bad news tonight with newcomer Tyler Pitlick leaving the game with a lower-body injury early in the second period. The 29-year-old winger was slotted in to play on Calgary’s shutdown line, so we’ll just have to wait and see how long he’s out of the lineup. But chin up, C of Red – all is not lost. Let’s not forget that this is just one preseason game and nobody should read too much into the loss. The Flames’ tilt against the Vancouver Canucks tonight will feature an entirely new lineup, and that could provide an entirely different script compared to the very bad ending we all witnessed tonight.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.