Flames Weekly is our 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 to 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.
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This was a critical week for the Flames, as they desperately tried to get on a roll and push for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Scotia North Division. A lot of the team’s hopes were pinned on finally solving the Ottawa Senators and sweeping their two-game set against the cellar-dwellers before facing a surging Winnipeg Jets squad for two more contests to close out the week. After the dust settled, the boys in red only managed to produce a single victory in four tries, shattering their already fragile postseason aspirations.
Back-to-Back Losses to the Sens Has Season on the Brink
A slew of injuries to the Senators’ goaltenders forced them to start a 22-year-old rookie with zero NHL games under his belt last week. If there ever was a time to finally take advantage of playing the worst team in the division to save their season – this was it. After getting shutout 2-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs two nights earlier, the Flames hoped to reignite a flailing offence against a young, inexperienced group that is last in the league at stopping goals. However, instead of feasting on the Sens, Calgary couldn’t solve young Filip Gustavsson until late in the third period, when Johnny Gaudreau finally broke the team’s 75-minute scoreless streak with a beautiful breakaway goal.
That briefly tied things up at 1-1, but a late defensive breakdown cost the Flames a chance to secure at least the single point, and they lost the game 2-1. That made Wednesday’s rematch even more important to try and save face and salvage at least two points in the crucial two-game set. You would think the Flames would be desperate with their season on the line, but instead, the team struggled to get many high-danger chances.
Mark Giordano scored their lone marker, and once again, late defensive letdowns allowed the Senators to secure a 3-1 victory in regulation. The Flames are now 2-4-1 in seven games vs. the Sens this season, posting a 1-4-0 record at the Canadian Tire Centre while being outscored 19-10. Heading into their two-game set against the Jets, their uninspired performance against Ottawa effectively killed the Flames’ playoff chances.
Flames Hoped for a Bounceback Against a Surging Jets Squad
After scoring two goals in two games against the lowly Senators, the Flames really needed a fast start and some offence against the Jets to shake off the cobwebs and get back on track. That didn’t happen. After two periods, the home squad were down 2-0 on Friday night before Milan Lucic finally broke the shutout with a third-period power-play goal.
The big man’s seventh marker of the season seemed to wake up the Flames, and while they did make a big push in the final frame to make a game of it, they waited too long to complete the comeback. Calgary is now 1-14-1 when trailing after two periods and 4-14-1 when they are scored on first. The team’s latest poor start did not sit well with head coach Darryl Sutter, who called several players “dopey” in the post-game presser.
The Flames had only six high-danger chances in the game and are now ranked 25th in the NHL in expected goals per 60 since Sutter took over. In the second game of the back-to-back series, the Flames heeded the call for a better start from the bench boss, and the home team struck twice in the first frame with goals from Josh Leivo and Giordano to take a rare lead after 20 minutes. The Jets pushed back in the second period, knotting the game at 2-2 before Andrew Mangiapane scored the game-winner early in the third on a deflected goal that Winnipeg backup netminder Laurent Brossoit probably would like back.
Sam Bennett added another goal after his dump-in from no man’s land somehow beat Brossoit to make it 4-2, and that was enough to seal the deal. A weak goaltending performance by the Jets was the difference, but with the Flames’ 2020-21 campaign on life support, they will take whatever they can get. Calgary snapped their season-long four-game losing streak and finished the week 1-3. Their 6-17-3 record is good for 5th place in the North Division.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
The Flames had a busy week, playing four games in two different cities over the past seven days. They’ve just suffered their worst stretch of the season, so there’s a lot to unpack and analyze as we look at who made the biggest impression – positive or negative.
- Rasmus Andersson has to be the biggest loser of the week after displaying very poor judgement and a complete lack of sportsmanship on Monday night when he tried to steal the game puck before the Senators could give it to their rookie goaltender on the night of his first NHL win. Not a classy move by the young Swede.
- Johnny Gaudreau was both a loser and winner this week after his head coach threw him under the bus one night and then praised his game the very next day. Before Saturday’s tilt, Sutter was asked to comment on Gaudreau’s 500th NHL game, and the Flames’ bench boss did not mince words: “Hopefully he has more energy than in his 499th game.”
- After no. 13 responded with a much better effort in the rematch against the Jets, the gruff farmer from Viking, Alberta had a very different critique of the diminutive winger: “He was much better tonight. His pace was better. Quite honestly, it was his best game he’s played since I joined the team. He’s an elite-level player in this league, so he has to try to have his best game every game for us.” Say what you want about Sutter, but his pressers never disappoint.
- Joakim Nordstrom re-joined the squad after missing nine games due to a lower-body injury. The fourth liner finally notched his first point of the season with an assist on the Flames’ fourth goal Saturday night. That’s great, but the Sportsnet broadcast also made sure to temper our excitement over the milestone by pointing out the 29-year-old Swede is still on a 43-game goalless streak.
- While we’ve been dumping on the Flames’ core for letting this season get away from them, let’s not forget to add yet another scapegoat. Jacob Markstrom has simply not been sharp since his return from injury in early March. Over his last nine games, his expected save percentage is .893, and his high danger save percentage is a woeful .783. This is a far cry from his rock-solid start to the season that earned him the mantle of the Flames’ early MVP.
- Milan Lucic potted his seventh goal on Friday night and now has the same number of tallies on the season as Sean Monahan. I’m not sure how to feel about this. Is this good news or bad news?
The Week Ahead
The Flames are in for a very tough test this coming week, as they have to face the top three teams in the division and a much-improved Vancouver Canucks squad. First up, it’s the Jets again on Monday night, but this time they’ll likely have to face the defending the Vezina Trophy-winner, Connor Hellebuyck.
On Wednesday, the team will be on the west coast to take on the Canucks. Two days later, the boys in red will be in the Alberta capital to face the Hart Trophy front-runner Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. The week is capped off on Sunday when the Flames host the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs at the Saddledome.
Considering Calgary will likely have to win 15 of their final 20 games of the season to reach the playoffs, the team will have to play .750 hockey the rest of the way. Anything less than winning three of the next four contests will probably signal the organization to admit defeat, throw in the towel on the season and start thinking about how to improve the team for the 2021-22 campaign.
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, 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 Facebook.