Flames’ Weak First Period Proves to Be Costly in Loss to Maple Leafs

The headline seems all too familiar, but the Calgary Flames are truly coming off one of their ugliest first period efforts in a very long time. The Flames registered just one measly shot on Freddie Andersen and the Toronto Maple Leafs after 20 minutes of play, while the Leafs capitalized off of goals from Wayne Simmonds and Auston Matthews.

The Leafs headed into the dressing room after one period out-shooting the Flames 10-1, and up 2-0 on the scoreboard. The Flames have had their struggles giving a full effort in the past, but last night’s first period was an eye-opener of epic proportions for this team, and work needs to be done. (From ‘Slow start ultimately snuffs out Flames,’ Toronto Sun, 01/27/21)

Just Plain Ugly

There really isn’t a better way to summarize last night’s one shot first-period effort by the Flames, besides calling it just plain ugly. Former Maple Leaf and Flame center, Matt Stajan, said “that was way too easy for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” when asked about the opening stanza in Calgary.

The last time the Flames registered a lone shot on goal in the first period was all the way back in 2004, but that isn’t to say there haven’t been other rough opening periods for this team recently as well. This loss for the Flames, unfortunately, cost the team two important points to a new-found rival.

The Flames’ first shot in the opening frame didn’t come until there was just 4:17 left on the clock, and by that point, the Leafs were already up 2-0 courtesy of Simmonds’ even-strength rebound tally and Matthews’ power-play snipe. Flames’ head coach Geoff Ward wasn’t too pleased with his team’s effort after 20.

Geoff Ward Calgary Flames
Geoff Ward, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“Well, we didn’t start on time that’s for sure. We got outworked early and we were really porous. We looked like we’d never tracked before in our life. I thought we were very, very poor with respect to our details, with our tracking early. I thought we were soft on our forecheck, too soft.” said Ward. Clearly, the coach showed some disappointment in his post-game presser, and he likely displayed some frustration during the first intermission, too.

A Better Effort After the First

The Flames had a much better effort in the second and third frame, as they managed to fire 25 shots on Andersen following the awful first period, to out-shoot the Leafs 26-21 by the end of the contest. Johnny Gaudreau had a two-goal game, with tallies coming in the second and third, including the game-tying goal, while Milan Lucic ripped the monkey off of his back and buried a gift in the high-slot in the second period for his first goal of the season.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau celebrates with the bench. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Despite the Flames looking like the better team in the second and third, it was Mitch Marner who squeaked the eventual game-winner past Markstrom from the high-slot with 7:46 left in the third. The goal is one I’m sure Markstrom would love back, but had it not been for the Flames’ poor offensive and defensive efforts in the first, they wouldn’t have had to play behind the eight ball the entire game.

The Flames’ power play could have certainly been better against the Leafs on Tuesday night, especially when it mattered so late in the game with Markstrom on the bench for the extra skater. The club’s man-advantage operated at 25% after going 1 for 4, but the Flames need more from their first and second PP units if they want to be successful.

This team’s first period may have been disastrous, but with such a deadly power play early on this season heading into this matchup, scoring seven goals this season through 20 chances, they should have found a way while on the man-advantage.

Back to the Drawing Board

After dropping back-to-back games to the Maple Leafs on Saddledome ice, the Flames will head east in search of rekindling their game. They should be happy with their overall game in the second and third, but this team needs to get back to basics and give a full 60-minute performance.

Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan
Calgary Flames’ Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan look on during practice (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

They’ll have Wednesday off before they face the red-hot Montreal Canadiens in back-to-back Bell Centre affairs on Thursday and Saturday. The Flames learned a lesson on how lethal Auston Matthews can be after he deposited a bullet past Markstrom. The Canadiens have plenty of weapons up front too, so they’ll need to prepare for that.

The Flames ultimately need to dictate the Habs early and play a full game, as well as provide complete coverage in the slot, and have much better awareness when in front of their own crease. Too many costly goals against the Flames are coming off of their own skaters.

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