Flames Weekly is our 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 to 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.
This was a painfully slow week for the Flames. Slow with only two games on the docket, and painful because that’s how it feels to watch the team play out the season pretending they still have a shot at making the playoffs (despite winning big over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night). I have been the resident naysayer for over seven weeks, claiming they were out of it on March 25 after back-to-back losses to the Sens. Since then, Calgary has played below .500 and hasn’t put together the winning streak required to make a serious postseason push.
Lacklustre Effort Against Winnipeg Ends Jets’ Losing Streak
What gracious hosts the Flames turned out to be on Wednesday night. Heading into that contest, the Winnipeg Jets were in a free-fall, losers of their last seven games and in danger of falling to fourth place in the Scotia North Division. Theoretically, the men from Manitoba were a fragile group ripe for the taking. In reality, the Flames played with no urgency and handed the visitors a 4-0 victory on a silver platter. In the post-game presser, head coach Darryl Sutter had a quick answer when he was asked why his team failed to show up:
“One hundred percent turnovers… First minute into the game, our second shift, we joined the rush and throw the puck as a defenceman, throw it blindly, you can’t do that. You’ve got to shoot it at the net or put it on someone’s stick, they go down a two-on-one. The next one’s a turnover breakaway… All four of their goals we had primary assists. Strictly a turnover game.”Darryl Sutter
The Jets’ Adam Lowry scored just a minute into the game after Nikita Nesterov coughed up the puck deep in the Winnipeg zone for an odd-man rush the other way. The son of the Flames’ former captain wasn’t done. A few minutes into the second frame, Lowry struck again on a shorthanded two-on-none after another Nesterov gaffe – I hope the Russian defenceman received a nice edible arrangement from the Jets’ centerman the next day.
While the Flames did push back in the second and third periods, they couldn’t solve netminder Connor Hellebuyck, who had a nice bounceback game after suffering a rough patch during Winnipeg’s extended losing streak. Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler put the visitors up 3-0 with a nifty breakaway goal late in the second frame before finishing the night’s scoring with a power-play marker early in the third.
I think the Flames know that their playoff chase has been over for a while, and on Wednesday night, they finally had a major letdown after a month of playing the disciplined, tight-checking style that Sutter demands. The desperation and mental sharpness required to run the table and win every remaining game was nowhere to be found, and who could blame them? Even in a 56-game season, this campaign somehow feels like the longest one in franchise history.
Gaudreau Remains Red Hot in Blowout Win Against the Senators
After failing to register a goal against the Jets on Wednesday, the Flames came out firing on all cylinders against a tired Senators group Sunday night. The Sens are winless in the second game of a back-to-back this season, and they did nothing to reverse that trend against a desperate Calgary team looking to keep their longshot playoff hopes alive.
The boys in red scored early and often en route to a 6-1 drubbing of a squad that has had the Flames’ number all season. Johnny Gaudreau remained hot as a pistol, putting up an impressive three-point night. No. 13 now has 16 points in his last 16 games, and his first one of the night was a beauty breakaway goal with a defender draped all over him.
After the first frame, the score was 1-0 Calgary, but that lone tally actually flattered the visitors as the Flames dominated the opening 20 minutes in every way. They kept that momentum going early in the second stanza, as Mikael Backlund padded the lead just 17 seconds in, and that’s when the floodgates really opened. Calgary kept widening the gap, with two more markers in the middle frame: the first from Matthew Tkachuk and the second via a heavy blast from Michael Stone.
The hits just kept on coming in the third, as Dillon Dube potted his 10th of the season, while the captain kept up his recent strong play with a power-play goal midway through the final period. Ottawa’s lone goal came at the halfway point of the game, but they were never in this contest… not even for a minute. After the dust settled, the Flames outshot the visitors 36-20 and exacted some revenge on the season series. Who knows? If Flames had put forward this kind of complete-game effort against the Sens a few more times this season, they might be in the playoff picture instead of on the outside looking in.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
The Flames had a really quiet week, playing only two games in the last seven days. Since both contests were at the Scotiabank Saddledome, there was no travel required, so the team had a lot of time to mull over what went right and what went wrong. It also gave me ample time to decide who made the biggest impression – positive or negative.
- Can the Flames please give Louis “Third String” Domingue a chance to play goalie this season? The affable back-up has either been practicing with the taxi squad, playing for the AHL Stockton Heat, or patiently wearing a ball cap at the end of the bench since David Rittich was traded on April 11. That’s a full month of being on the roster without seeing a second of ice time. That’s 11 games riding the pine. Just give the man his shot. He’s already proven he’s the best baker in the league – let’s see what he can do between the pipes. #FreeLouis
- Both Juuso Välimäki and Nesterov are still in Sutter’s doghouse. The sometimes-ornery head coach called out his defencemen’s glaring gaffes after Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Jets: “Three (goals against) were defencemen with very little experience. Guess that’s how they learn. I think there are some players that hold our team down.” Ouch. You really have to wonder if Nesterov will be back next season and if Välimäki can adjust his “loosey-goosey” style to please his bench boss.
- Although he’s no longer a Flame, all everyone is talking about is how well Sam Bennett has been playing since he was dealt to the Florida Panthers. The highest draft pick in franchise history (4th overall) is lighting it up in the Sunshine State with 15 points in his first 10 games. The man with the best moustache in the NHL only had 12 points in 38 contests with Calgary this season. I guess all he needed was that “change of scenery” his agent requested back in January.
- Milan Lucic is a fan favourite and a very popular presence in the room, so it comes as no surprise that the big galoot proved he’s also a team-first player last week. The 32-year-old winger has made it known that he loves being in Calgary, and I’m hoping he stays in the Stampede City, but he says he is willing to waive his no-movement clause and be exposed in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer if the team needs him to. While he no longer piles up the points, No. 17 has proven this season that he still has gas left in the tank.
- After the Flames’ bench boss decided to shuffle up his roster a month ago and move Tkachuk to a line with Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm, the 23-year-old winger has had some pep in his step and an increase in his offensive production. After posting a three-point game on Sunday against the Senators, Tkachuk now has 9 points in his last 11 games. That’s great, but it’s too little too late to save what has been a disappointing season for the super pest.
The Week Ahead
After a three-day break, the Flames will begin a rather weird final stretch of the 2020-21 season. Because the NHL had to reschedule a bunch of Vancouver Canucks games due to Covid-19 protocols, the boys in red will finish the campaign with four games in a row against the Canucks starting Thursday at the Saddledome. On Sunday, the squads will meet again as the only two teams in the league still playing regular-season hockey.
The pair of Scotia North Division bottom feeders will wrap up their four-game set on May 19. There was some chatter that these final few games could decide the final playoff spot, but that ship has likely sailed. The Flames must win every game they’ve got left and hope the Montreal Canadiens lose their last two in regulation. That ain’t happening. Instead, here’s hoping we will finally see some of the Flames’ top AHL prospects take the ice so we can figure out if any of them are NHL ready.
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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.