Flames Weekly is our new 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 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.
What the Flames Faced at the Start of the Week
Facing two more games with the Vancouver Canucks this week, the Flames hoped to recover from their previous Saturday night loss to the Canucks and gear up for clashes on Friday and Saturday night with their archenemy – the godless Edmonton Oilers. The squad’s points percentage of .536 at the start of the week put them just a point ahead of the struggling sixth-placed Canucks and two back of the Winnipeg Jets – at the time the occupants of the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.
The Monday and Wednesday night tilts against the Canucks, the last two in a four-game set, must have loomed large at the Monday morning skate. Losing both would cement their position next to the Senators at the bottom of the North Division while even a split would do nothing to move them into a playoff spot. The Flames really needed to notch wins on both nights. The Canucks, looking to build on their Saturday night win were unlikely to be pushovers – and the Flames knew it.
As they boarded their flight for Vancouver Sunday night, hanging over the team like dark clouds were inconsistency, anemic first periods and big scoring guns that go silent when they are needed most. The team needed to see a bounce-back starting Monday night.
The Vancouver Set
Monday – Calgary at Vancouver
The Flames’ 4 -3 win Monday night over the Canucks restored some of the Flames’ swagger. Inspired by Rasmus Andersson who registered two key assists, the team fought back from a two-goal deficit at the end of the first period and scored a clutch goal in overtime to notch two points.
On game day Andersson found himself demoted to the third defense pairing and off the power play, paired with Connor Mackey appearing in only his second NHL game, while his regular mate Juuso Valimaki was moved up to play with Mark Giordano. The demotion could have gone one of two ways for head coach Geoff Ward with Andersson either sulking or deciding to send a message about his proper place in the roster. To his credit, it was the latter.
Fans of the Cowtown boys were experiencing déjà vu just a few minutes into the first frame when the Flames gave up the first goal in a game yet again. This time, Canucks’ winger Tanner Pearson, on a power play, tipped a point shot from teammate Quinn Hughes into the back of Jacob Markstrom’s net.
Then nearing the 15-minute mark of the period, Bo Horvat potted the Canucks’ second power-play goal on a set play that saw J.T. Miller fake a shot only to make a pass to Brock Boeser standing at the corner of the Calgary net. Boeser then found Horvat in the slot setting him up to rip a shot past Markstrom.
With four penalties in a row and down two goals it looked like the Flames were mailing in another stinker. That changed with 25 seconds remaining in the period when Andersson, battling for the puck behind the Canucks’ net, put the puck on Milan Lucic’s stick to set the big winger up to score his fourth marker of the season.
The Flames set a furious pace in the second period throwing bodies and pucks at the Vancouver net and clogging the slot with traffic jams. Just past the 10-minute mark, Andersson set up Elias Lindholm for his fifth goal of the season after picking off a weak pass Horvat tried to make and then hitting his fellow Swede right on the tape with the puck.
Five minutes later the Flames’ Dillon Dube was credited with a goal that he owed entirely to Canucks’ defender Nate Schmidt who committed the cardinal sin of trying to make a pass through his own crease. Not even Pee-Wee players would try that trick. Dube stopped the pass bouncing the puck into Thatcher Demko’s pads after which the hapless netminder put into his own net.
The Flames dominated the second period with the third line of Lucic, Dube and Sam Bennett finding their 2020 playoff form and leading the charge. They were the Flames’ best line all night getting pucks deep into the Vancouver zone and relentlessly pounding the Canucks’ defense.
Down 3–2, the Canucks came out of their corner swinging to start the third period but Calgary pushed back with Johnny Gaudreau constantly threatening with repeated breaks on net and plenty of shots. Calgary fans were about to crack another cold one in celebration of a win until Boeser ruined the party with a short-handed goal with 25 seconds remaining in the frame.
On the power play, Gaudreau put the game away 23 seconds into the overtime period on a sharp angle shot from the bottom of the circle on a pass from Sean Monahan.
The Flames walked out of Vancouver Monday with two badly needed points and their pride restored. The next step for the team would be to address their consistency problem with another determined effort on Wednesday night.
Wednesday – Vancouver at Calgary
Back in the dome at home Wednesday night the Flames fell behind early as now seems to be their custom, but this time a lackluster Markstrom couldn’t help them battle back and steal the game. Their Vancouver guests pummelled them 5 – 1.
An angry Calgary bench boss Geoff Ward sat in front of reporters at the postgame presser attributing the loss to inconsistency. With an air of exasperation, he said that “We’ve been talking about that for a while now”, adding, “It’s time we started giving a *expletive* about it.”
The Flames invited trouble right from the opening faceoff turning the puck over at the Canucks’ blue line repeatedly. Vancouver’s Jordie Benn scored just over a minute and a half into the period thanks to an unforced Flames’ turnover in the neutral zone. The Men in Red pushed back getting lots of good looks at the net, but no puck luck.
Horvat scored Vancouver’s second goal coming up on the 10-minute mark of the second period on a beautiful pass from Hughes that set him up with a breakaway on Markstrom. For reasons known only to the Calgary goaltender he came out of his net to challenge Horvat and all the Canucks’ captain had to do was skate around the sprawling netminder to bury the puck in the Calgary net.
Curiously this was the second attempt by Markstrom to tackle a Canucks’ forward. The first resulted in a highlight reel collision with Pearson.
The Flames dominated the Canucks during the second period despite falling behind by two goals. It looked like their luck would change when late in the period Andrew Mangiapane managed to get around Hughes and cut to the Vancouver net blowing wide by a sprawling Braden Holtby to score.
The wheels would fall off the Flames’ effort with under two minutes to go in the period when Miller answered Mangiapane with a rocket that beat Markstrom on a high corner. Then with under a minute left in the period, Schmidt scored from the slot on a frustrated Markstrom. Both goals were the result of a relentless Vancouver forecheck that the Flames seemed happy to just watch.
Coming out in the third period trailing 4-1 the Flames gave up a fifth and final goal barely more than 5 minutes into the period when Calgary allowed a four-on-one rush in which Boeser on a pass from Tyler Myers beat Markstrom on the high glove side. Calgary fans were left screaming at their big-screen TVs demanding to know how the Flames were so outnumbered on a rush.
With Markstrom mercifully pulled from the Calgary goal and replaced by David Rittich, the Flames finished the rest of the third frame with nothing more than a whimper. There were few signs on the ice that the drubbing they were taking really bothered them.
Markstrom nailed himself to the cross for his disappointing performance in the postgame press conference. Yet reading between the lines he seemed to acknowledge that the loss Wednesday wasn’t due only to goaltending.
Wednesday night the Canucks were desperate for a win and the Flames looked like they didn’t want one badly enough. Calgary ended their four-game series with Vancouver with just four of a possible eight points and headed into their series with the Oilers as just another .500 club at the quarter mark in the season.
There remained questions about their identity, their willingness to push back in the face of adversity and their inconsistency. What’s more, Ward was still experimenting with his lines. The team would have to find something that works and soon.
The Edmonton Series
Friday – Edmonton at Calgary
Just over five minutes into the first period, the Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi put a wrist shot past Rittich and the Men in Red were once again chasing another game. It was the 11th time in 17 games this year that the team has given up the first goal. They chased the game for the next 55 minutes to a 2 -1 loss – their third in their last four contests.
Big Save Dave stood tall in the Calgary net stopping 23 of the Oilers’ 25 shots, but his teammates just couldn’t seem to muster enough firepower to climb back into the game. Monahan’s absence due to an injury didn’t make things easier.
The game was a tight-checking, boring affair with neither team bringing the customary belligerence that fans expect to see in a Battle of Alberta. The Flames again struggled in the neutral zone turning over the puck to the Oilers who clogged the zone all night. They countered with stretch passes and puck dumps, but Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith shut down Calgary’s dump and chase game with his superb puck handling.
In the second frame, it looked like the game was going to be a cinch for the Oilers when late in the period, Gaetan Hass put a second puck past Rittich who was lying in his net after Flames defenseman Noah Hannifin slid into him. He had no chance on the goal.
Andersson put the lie to the idea of the Oilers breezing to a win when 45 seconds later he blasted a shot from the slot past Smith to keep the Flames down by just one going into the third period. The goal would not have been possible without the artistry of Gaudreau who down low in the Oilers’ zone fooled defenseman Tyler Barrie into thinking he was going to wrap the puck around behind the net, only to lift Barrie’s stick to allow a pass to Andersson who had jumped into the play from the blue line.
Outshot in the second period by a margin of two to one, the Flames needed to see a big third period with their offensive guns peppering Smith with rubber. Alas, they simply didn’t get enough time in the offensive zone and when they were there they didn’t get enough traffic in front of Smith.
There were a few positives for the Flames. They managed to shut down the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl show – both were held pointless. Rittich looked confident tending twine showing no signs of any rust given the few games he has played this year.
While the team looked better against the Oilers than they did in their 5 -1 loss to the Canucks there remained questions as to their commitment. When asked in the postgame presser whether he saw enough emotion, Ward said, “At points. We’ve got to find a way to generate more. We need more desperation.”
Saturday – Calgary at Edmonton
As now seems to be their custom, the Flames gave up the first goal of yet another game, this time just three minutes and 29 seconds into the first frame. They chased the rest of the game to an ugly 7 – 1 loss saddling them with a .472 record and putting their prospects for a playoff spot in doubt.
McDavid almost single-handedly took the Flames apart. In just the 40 minutes he played, the superstar racked up three goals and two assists. The Oilers spaced their scoring out notching three goals in each of the first two periods and one in the third after which they sat on their lead and choked the remaining life out of their hapless visitors.
Mangiapane scored the lone Flames’ goal in the second period in the middle of a pile-up in front of the Oilers’ goal caused by Mathew Tkachuk.
Despite the lopsided score, there were a lot of positives for the Flames in this game. They brought a lot of energy into Edmonton, played a very physical game and demonstrated a compete level not often seen this year. They had many good scoring opportunities and outshot the Oilers 44 – 24. To their credit, the squad fought hard all the way through the game to the end of a hopeless third period.
Still, fans are asking how much longer the Flames can go on looking for positives in losing efforts. That’s best left to rebuilding teams – not to teams like the Flames whose time is now.
As Matthew Tkachuk put it in a pregame interview, “If we take positives out of losses, we’re going the wrong way. Losing isn’t fun. Do you take a couple of things out of it that we were successful with? Yeah definitely. But to sit here and take positives out of a game we lost . . . It’s time to get wins.”
Tkachuk walked his own talk setting a nasty tone to the game crashing Edmonton goaltender Mikkko Koskinen’s crease all night long. Other Flames joined in with big hits, perhaps none harder than Sam Bennett’s hit on Slater KoekKoek that took the big Oiler defenseman out of the game.
The Flames did themselves no favors taking seven penalties on which the Oilers scored four goals. No team can afford to take that many penalties against a team with Draisaitl and McDavid in the lineup.
The Flames were guilty of sloppy play getting caught out of position and missing assignments. Juuso Valimaki and Nikita Nesterov – both with a minus-8 rating on the season – allowed two of the Oilers’ goals. At its root, this kind of play is a coaching problem.
In the Twitterverse, Flames’ fans are screaming for Ward’s head on a pike. Now color commentators with the NHL’s broadcast partners are predicting that a coaching change is in the cards unless things turn around – and fast.
Studs and Duds of the Week
Stud – Andersson for igniting the team in Monday night’s victory and being named third star Friday night.
Stud – The line of Lucic, Dube and Bennett. They were the best line Monday night and had the most impact for Calgary in Wednesday night’s loss. They proved themselves the Flames’ energy line against the Oilers.
Stud – Rittich, first star in Friday’s contest with the Oilers.
Dud – Markstrom for his performance in Wednesday night’s game – by his own admission. He wasn’t much better Saturday night.
Dud – The Flames’ offense, who registered just two goals in the set with the Oilers leaving their team with more total goals scored against them (54) than for (46). This team just can’t score.
The Week Ahead
This week will see the Flames head east for two matches with the Toronto Maple Leafs and three with the Ottawa Senators. Atop the North Division, the Leafs will not be an easy opponent for the boys from Stampede City. Not only that, but the team had better not be thinking they’ll walk out of Ottawa with an easy six points – that’s no sure bet. The Sens have shown they need to be taken seriously having defeated the Leafs twice this year. Ottawa will be smelling Calgary blood in the water.
Unless the Flames can string together a winning streak this week, their season is in jeopardy. Most clubs in the league would need at least a .625 record to see postseason play. More losses on their eastern road trip will mean the Flames need to play the rest of the season at .700 or more. To this point, the Flames have not demonstrated they are anything other than a .500 club.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney