For the fourth time this season, the Calgary Flames lost to the worst team in the Canadian division, the Ottawa Senators, 2-1 on Monday. Before the regular season, it was repeatedly noted that Calgary had to take advantage of the rebuilding Ottawa squad to be successful, but instead, the Senators handed the Flames yet another devastating blow to their postseason hopes (from ‘It hurts’: ‘Flames outplay Senators, but give up late winner to last-place club,’ Edmonton Journal, 03/22/21).
If there is one word to describe the Senators, it’s pesky. The Flames were favoured to win on Monday, and have been all season against the Sens, but Ottawa had other plans. Filip Gustavsson was given the nod for his NHL debut on Monday, but rather than showing signs of nerves or inexperience, he looked like he was competing for a Vezina Trophy.
Gustavsson set aside 35 of 36 shots, and when he left the ice, he had a save percentage of .972. One thing he almost didn’t leave the ice with, though, was his game-winning puck. Rasmus Andersson was so frustrated following his team’s third loss in four games, that he tried to steal the puck. Brady Tkachuk made sure to retreive his winning goalie’s prized possession.
Gustavsson didn’t allow a goal until a Johnny Gaudreau breakaway with 5:06 left in the third period, and even though the Flames could have done a better job of generating high-danger scoring chances, Gustavsson was invested in his group and gave them a rock-solid performance. For Gaudreau, it was his first 5-on-5 goal in 39 days.
The Flames only have three games remaining against the struggling Senators, so when you consider that Ottawa has already earned eight of a possible 12 points, the chance that Calgary will bury their division rival is slim. In six meetings, the Senators have outscored the Flames 23-19, so if the Flames want to finish strong, their top-guns need to shine.
With just 23 games remaining, former THW contributor Ryan Pike says the Flames will need to play .696 hockey, and will need at least a 16-6-1 record if they want to play for the Stanley Cup. The Flames have a fresh shot at redemption on Wednesday when they face the Senators again in the nation’s capital.
Approach Needs to Change
The Flames are struggling to score of late, ranked 23rd in the league and last in goals scored in their division, and after back-to-back losses, the Flames need to change their approach to coming to the rink and make sure it is enjoyable again.
In 2017, when the Flames hit a serious mid-season slump, the team found a way to bring back their swagger off the ice, which added some jump to their game. Following a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens that season, former head coach, Glen Gulutzan decided to keep the mood light by allowing his players to enjoy a few adult beverages on a train. After that, the Flames went on a bit of a run and made the playoffs, a credit to that bonding experience.
Sure, in a COVID-19 world, a train ride is unlikely, so the Flames need to find another way to energize their group and bring themselves closer to each other if they want to gain some ground on the Senators and play any sort of meaningful hockey this spring.