Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Tuesday for my 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 me know how you thought the team performed, or post any ideas or questions about the Flames.
Well, it’s official. It’s safe to say the Flames are smack-dab in the middle of their first rough patch of the 2021-22 campaign. The week started off with a couple of games the boys in red lost, but really should have won. Then, it prematurely wrapped up with the team’s worst effort of the season on Saturday night. But here’s the kicker – COVID-19 is now running rampant through Calgary’s locker room, postponing the next three (or more) contests. If this isn’t the low point, then I don’t know what is.
Angry Sutter Points Finger at Sloppy D-Core After Loss to Sharks
Last Tuesday, the Flames were coming off a scrappy effort against a good Vegas Golden Knights team that saw a furious comeback attempt come up just short. When they dropped the puck in San Jose, I expected a solid bounce back effort from the visiting squad, and for the first half of the game, that’s exactly what I saw. Dillon Dube got Calgary on the board 97 seconds into the game, while Johnny Gaudreau potted his 10th of the season to give the Flames a 2-1 lead after the first period. After rookie call-up Adam Ruzicka scored his first NHL marker early in the second frame, it really looked like the boys in red would roll over the Sharks.
Unfortunately, it only took the Flames eight minutes to completely unravel, as the Sharks turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead heading into the third period. Head coach Darryl Sutter was fuming after the contest, calling out his defencemen for their sloppy play.
“Our defence had a really rough night,” Sutter told the media after the game. “The six defencemen played like an exhibition game… Those weren’t great goals to be quite honest. First off, the penalty was unnecessary and they scored an easy goal. The other was a line change of a defenceman. Those are defenceman mistakes.”
The Flames’ bench boss wasn’t done with his criticism, as he also called out his rookie back-up Dan Vladar, who suffered only his first regulation loss of the season. “Our goaltender has to be better than theirs… (Vladar) had trouble in traffic and trouble with rebounds.” In the end, this was a game the visiting squad really should have hung on to win and Sutter had every right to rip into his team.
Flames Fall to Hurricanes in Overtime
After getting raked over the coals for their sloppy effort in San Jose, the Flames were back home at the Dome Thursday night to entertain one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes. They call these contests “measuring stick games” and the boys in red certainly put their best foot forward against a tough opponent, and likely deserved a better fate. After going down 1-0 after the first, the home squad knotted up a tight-checking game midway through the second stanza after Noah Hanifin scored a seeing-eye goal from the point, making up for an earlier missed penalty shot.
The third period saw the Flames miss out on a couple of glorious scoring chances that somehow straddled the goal line, but were ultimately swatted away at the very last second. Early in the third, a Dube shot trickled dangerously across the line and then late in the frame, a Rasmus Andersson shot bounced off a Hurricanes defender but miraculously stayed out. Those missed opportunities proved to be very costly, as the Flames’ anemic power play went 0-5 and also failed to find the twine.
This game needed an extra frame to be decided and for whatever reason, the boys in red have been absolutely dreadful in added time this season. That unsettling trend continued on Thursday night, as Sebastian Aho scored his second of the night at the 4:07 mark of OT, handing Calgary their sixth overtime loss of the season. Jacob Markstrom offered up a blunt, and semi-sarcastic response when reporters asked him how the Flames can improve their 3-on-3 game, “Score before they score,” he said. I can’t argue with that.
Listless Effort Against Bruins Extends Losing Streak
After losing a couple of games they really should have won, the Flames finished off their week on Saturday night by losing a game they never really had a chance to win. The Boston Bruins are a solid, structured team that promised to be another good test for a Flames team reeling after three consecutive losses. While the home squad did control more of the play, an off night from the usually reliable Markstrom and a couple of defensive breakdowns ensured Calgary fell behind 3-0 before Matthew Tkachuk finally answered with his 12th of the year midway through the second frame.
While the Flames get pretty good results when they score the opening goal, they have a tough time coming back in games where the opposition gets on the board first. This was the ninth game that Calgary has allowed the first goal and they’re 2-4-3 this season when that happens. So, being down 3-1 and then 4-1 was simply a mountain too tall to climb and the home team dropped their fourth straight. A meaningless Sean Monahan goal late in the game made the final a 4-2 loss.
COVID-19 Protocols Shut Down the Flames Until Dec. 16
The NHL announced Monday the Flames’ next three games will be postponed at least through Thursday, Dec. 16. Officials pulled the trigger after six players and one staff member entered the league’s COVID protocol within a 24-hour period. There’s a real concern about continued spread within the team, so it’s very likely we will see additional positive cases in the coming days. Buckle up fans, we could see the team’s fortunes go from bad to worse in the coming weeks.
As long as the affected players do not develop symptoms, their isolation period ends a full ten days after their first positive COVID-19 test was taken. That means the Flames will be without some of their best players until at least Dec. 21, when Calgary is supposed to host the Anaheim Ducks. Those six players in Covid protocols will obviously be out of the lineup when the boys in red are slated to return to action this Saturday to entertain the Columbus Blue Jackets, so I’m very curious who will be brought up from the farm team to fill the many holes in the roster.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
It was not only the team’s first winless week, but with the shocking announcement of game postponements, it was also the weirdest week of the Flames 2021-22 season. With no shortage of storylines in the last seven days, there is certainly a lot to unpack. Let’s get right to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.
- The weird and wild Juuso Välimäki saga continues with another unexpected turn. The 23-year-old D-man was sent down to the American Hockey League on Dec. 2, played a few games for the Stockton Heat, and then was called up on Dec. 7 when the team was in San Jose. The young Finn watched the game from the press box and then was promptly sent back to the minors the next day. While that was odd, I’m almost certain Välimäki will be called up again this week to fill in for COVID-stricken Nikita Zadorov, who will have to isolate for at least 10 days.
- Speaking of that San Jose game, a couple of Flames reached significant milestones that night. When Gaudreau notched his 10th of the season in the first period, it also marked the 180th goal of his career. And, Tkachuk’s assist on said goal was his 300th career point in just his 375th game. The 23-year-old is only the second player from the 2016 draft class to reach that milestone, behind fellow American Auston Matthews. Congrats Johnny and Chucky!
- Keeping the positive vibes going, Gaudreau’s goal in San Jose also ensured that the Flames became the first team in the league to have four players reach double-digit scoring. Right now Andrew Mangiapane has 17, Tkachuk has 12, Elias Lindholm has 11 and Gaudreau has 10. That’s great news for the team’s top six scoring prowess, but it’s the depth scoring that has been Calgary’s achilles heel. Milan Lucic has seven markers so far this year, but bottom six scoring dries up pretty quickly after that.
- It was a celebration so nice, they had to have it twice? I was a tad confused when the Flames organization honored Lucic’s 1000th NHL game (again) on Thursday night. You see, they already had a fancy “silver stick” presentation near end of last season to honour the 33-year-old. However, because there were no fans allowed in the stands during the 2020-21 campaign, the powers that be decided it would be a classy move to pay homage to the big galoot in front of 18,000 adoring faithful in the Scotiabank Saddledome and the Boston Bruins, who Lucic played 566 games with. Congrats Looch! (again)
- The Pacific division has been a lot more competitive than many NHL pundits thought it would be. Teams like the Ducks, Sharks and Kings are significantly better than expected, and even the cellar-dwelling Vancouver Canucks are on a hot streak. That’s both good news and bad news for the Flames this season. The good news is, nobody is running away with the division, so even after a four-game slide, the boys in red are only a point out of first place. The bad news is, Calgary has lost five of seven against division rivals. With the possible exception of the expansion Seattle Kraken, there seem to be no easy wins in the Pacific.
The Week Ahead
Will the Flames actually play hockey this week? Your guess is as good as mine. The scheduled contests against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs have all been postponed but the NHL could easily reschedule even more games if Covid cases continue to rise in Calgary’s locker room. Player testing was happening every three days but moving forward, the Flames will be swabbed every day and that could mean more players entering the protocol. The next game on the docket is Saturday night at the Dome against the Columbus Blue Jackets… for now.
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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.