Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday 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.
The boys in red probably let out a huge sigh of relief after coming back to the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome after a grueling seven games in 11 nights roadie that saw Calgary go an impressive 4-1-2. It looks like the NHL schedule maker took pity on the Flames after that juggernaut stretch because they only played two games this past week. While they deserved to win both contests, only one of them ended with a W.
A Balanced Offence Beats the Blackhawks
The Flames had every reason to start Tuesday night’s tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks looking a little sluggish. After a season-long road trip bookended by two home games, the boys in red played nine games in 15 nights, a schedule that head coach Darryl Sutter described as “almost not fair”. Instead of looking dead-dog tired, the home team scored just 71 seconds into the contest after Dillon Dube beat Marc-Andre Fleury from the top of the circle on a shot the veteran goaltender probably wanted back. After the Hawks tied up the game midway through the first, chants of “LOOOOCH” rained down in the Dome after Milan Lucic potted his surprising fifth goal of the season, supplying some much-needed secondary scoring from the bottom six.
Despite outshooting the visiting squad in all three periods, the Blackhawks kept hanging around in this game, tying it up early in the second frame after a botched pass from Jacob Markstrom bounced off Elias Lindholm’s stick and ended up in the back of the net a couple of seconds later. That set up a tense third period where you could tell the Flames were running out of gas. With just five minutes remaining in the game, Matthew Tkachuk broke the tie with a shot that ricocheted off the skate of Seth Jones and past Fleury. Sure, it was a lucky break for the Flames, but a well-deserved one as the boys in red outplayed the Blackhawks the entire game and found a way to grind out a win.
“There wasn’t much left there, was there? You could see it from the start,” said Sutter, “But these are the ones you have to know how to win. The bottom line is they are tired. We were gone the whole time in the eastern time zone and you get home in the middle of the night (Monday morning) and have to play this game. Give the players credit.”
Jets Snap Losing Streak With Come From Behind Win Over Flames
With a three-day break between games, there was no chatter about the Flames being a tired team heading into Saturday night’s contest against a sliding Winnipeg Jets squad. Losers of five in a row, the visitors fell behind early in the first period after the home side engineered another quick start – striking just 36 seconds into the game on a beautiful play. Gaudreau extended his point streak to six games after finding Tkachuk with a no-look pass that electrified the season-high crowd of 17,036.
Just seven minutes later, the good guys struck again, this time on the power play. Lindholm potted his ninth of the season to make it 2-0 and it looked like Calgary was poised to crush a reeling team that suffered a blowout 7-1 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Wild just 24 hours prior.
The Jets showed some moxie by cutting the lead in half by the end of the first and then by outplaying the Flames the following period to tie up the game. The end of the second frame also saw the home squad scramble to kill off a five-minute major after Lucic plowed the Jets’ Dylan DeMelo into the end boards, a dangerous play that saw the big man get tossed from the game.
The Flames came out swinging in the third period and dominated the play for long stretches of the final frame. However, the Jets’ former Vezina-winning goalie Connor Hellebuyck completely stole the show, stoning Andrew Mangiapane, Noah Hanifin and Sean Monahan on a wild power play midway through the third. After the Flames failed to capitalize on their multiple chances to snap the tie, Kyle Connor‘s second goal of the night silenced the boisterous crowd with five minutes to go to seal the victory for the visitors. After adding an empty netter for insurance, the Jets took the match 4-2.
After the dust settled, a demoralized Tkachuk lamented a game he thought his team let slip through their fingers. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to get this game into overtime or try to get two before that,” said Tkachuk. “You can’t lose that one in regulation. Those ones hurt. Those are the games that don’t sit too well with you.” His head coach agreed with the assessment. “We didn’t finish enough opportunities. Break it down and I’d say we outchanced them by quite a bit,” Sutter told reporters. “We had lots of opportunities to break the tie, or go up by two, and we just didn’t finish. And that’s an issue.”
The Week’s Winners and Losers
Coming off such a busy schedule it was nice to see the Flames gut out a great win, but Tkachuk is right – losing in regulation to the Jets after going up 2-0 does sting a little bit. Regardless, after only two games this past week, there is still a lot to unpack. So, let’s get to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.
- After Tuesday’s win over the Blackhawks, there was a lot of chatter about the Flames’ sensational start – 29 points after 20 games. To put that into a historical perspective, that’s tied for fourth best in franchise history, with only the 2001-02, 1993-94 and 1978-79 squads besting the current boys in red. However, if we look at how those teams with the fantastic starts actually ended their seasons, we see wildly different results. On the plus side, the 1988-89 team also started with 29 points and they ended up winning the Stanley Cup. On the flip side, the 2001-02 squad started their campaign with 31 points in 20 games and didn’t even make the playoffs. Wait, what? Yup, they only won 19 of their last 62 and missed the postseason. Yikes.
- Fresh off of his Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony, Flames legend Jarome Iginla graced the Dome on Saturday night, making a surprise appearance in the third period from a lower-level luxury box. After the team showed a video tribute honoring his recent induction into the hallowed hall, the crowd erupted when they noticed the former captain waving and smiling back to an adoring C of Red. After the love-in, the atmosphere for the final 10 minutes of the game was absolutely electric, as chants of “Ig-gy. Ig-gy” echoed throughout the arena. “It was awesome… really cool,” said Tkachuk after the game. “I haven’t heard the building like that for a while, so maybe we need him to come to the games more.”
- Lucic made a huge impression in both games this week, but for very different reasons. On Tuesday, the big galoot scored a beauty in the first frame, but it was a goal late in the third period that he could have scored that garnered the most attention. With the home team clinging to a one-goal lead, Trevor Lewis flipped a dribbling puck towards the Blackhawks empty net. Lucic had the opportunity to simply tap it in for his second goal of the night, but instead chose to shield the puck from a charging Domink Kubalik, ensuring Lewis got the credit. “I was kind of a (bit) of a curler on that one… a sweeper, to make sure it was going in because I knew one of their guys was coming back,” a smiling Lucic told reporters after the game. Meanwhile on Saturday night, I’m quite sure the big man was significantly less smiley after being ejected from the game following a five-minute major for boarding.
- The Flames made a couple of roster moves this week. First up, they sent Walker Duehr back down to Stockton and then recalled Adam Ruzicka. The 22-year-old center is leading the Heat in scoring with 10 goals and 16 points in 13 games this season and he couldn’t be more excited for the chance to to play with the big club. “It’s nice to be here and nice to get rewarded after 13 games – I’m really happy,” he told CalgaryFlames.com. “I’ll be here working my butt off and if I get the chance, I’ll hop in and do my best. I’m ready for it.” The 6-foot-4 Slovak skated in three games late last season and collected an assist (his first NHL point) on May 18 in Vancouver.
- After Saturday tilt against the Jets, Tkachuk was a guest on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours”. The 23-year-old sat down to chit-chat with Scott Oake and Cassie Campbell-Pascall about a wide variety of topics, but the one that really stood out for me dealt with the pesky winger’s future in cowtown. When Oake pressed the Flames superstar about upcoming contract negotiations, the former first round pick gave a very forthright answer. “First, I haven’t been actually asked about that contract, we haven’t talked about it at all. I think my contract year a couple of seasons ago, we didn’t talk and decided not to talk until after the season because, to me, I just want to focus on the team and we’ve got something good going right now and I don’t want anything to get in the way of that. I just want to play and we can deal with that stuff at the end of the season.” Well, I guess that’s that.
The Week Ahead
After a very light schedule this past week, the Flames will see a lot more action in the next seven days. Tonight, they host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to finish up a three-game homestand and then once again, the boys in red hit the road. First up, back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Thursday and Friday, then they wrap up the week in Sin City where they will face-off against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. Calgary hasn’t had much success against Western conference opponents this season, so this should be a good test for the club.
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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.