The Calgary Flames were doing everything right up until the midway point of the second period in Tuesday night’s tilt versus the San Jose Sharks. Thanks to an Adam Ruzicka goal early into the second frame, they held a 3-1 lead, one that felt very safe given how sound defensively they have been to start this season.
However, in a very uncharacteristic fashion for this group, they gave up three unanswered goals to close out the second period and went on to lose by a final of 5-3. Their much improved defensive game went out the window, as they seemed to revert to their play of 2020-21, which resulted in them missing the playoffs entirely.
Sutter Vents Frustration
For most, this game may not have seemed like a big deal. Even the best of teams have stinkers, and given how well the Flames have played as of late, this was bound to happen sooner or later. For Darryl Sutter, however, it is his job to ensure this type of play doesn’t happen from his group, and he wasn’t hesitant to let it be known that last night’s effort wasn’t anywhere near good enough.
“Our defence had a really rough night,” Sutter said to reporters. “The six defencemen played like an exhibition game.”
While his main frustration appeared to be directed towards his defenders, he wasn’t happy with any of his team’s play, including rookie goaltender Dan Vladar, who besides this game has been rock solid to start the 2021-22 season.
“Those are defenceman mistakes, and our goaltender has to be better than theirs,” Sutter said, alluding to the Sharks’ first four goals of the evening. “Our goaltender had trouble in traffic and trouble with rebounds.
“Disappointing. Missing nets, missing assignments, turning pucks over. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Pacific Division More Competitive Than Expected
This loss against the Sharks was a bit of a wake-up call for the Flames and goes to show how much tighter this division is than it was expected to be. Prior to the 2021-22 season beginning, it was expected that both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers would be duking it out for the top spot, however, it is the Flames who currently hold that position. It was also expected that teams like the Sharks as well as the Anaheim Ducks would really struggle and potentially be lottery teams, but that hasn’t been even close to the case.
At the time of writing this, the Ducks sit second place in the Pacific, while the Sharks are fourth and are currently holding the first wild-card position in the West. Meanwhile, the Oilers sit third in the division (albeit they have games in hand) and the Golden Knights are shockingly in fifth. While things could change, this division is extremely tight right now, which emphasizes how important interdivisional games are going forward. Simply put, the Flames can’t afford to do what they did on Tuesday night very often.
Difficult Schedule Ahead
Though last night appeared to be an outlier, things won’t get easier for the Flames moving forward this week. They face a Carolina Hurricanes team who, despite recent struggles, is one of the strongest teams in the entire NHL. They then take on a Boston Bruins team on Saturday, who are starting to pick things up and play to their potential as of late.
It will be interesting to see how this group responds to Sutter’s frustration, as he hasn’t had reason to call out his players to the media this season as he did on many occasions in 2020-21. With how well they have seemed to adapt to his tight-checking style approach, it appears they are completely bought in, which means we should expect to see a much better effort from them in their two remaining games this week.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.