The Flames’ success may have been up and down lately, but the New York Islanders’ certainly hasn’t. In fact, prior to their matchup in Calgary on January 2nd, the Isles had won eight of their last thirteen games, and were creeping up on top spot in the Eastern conference. And to ensure that they continued on that upward path, captain John Tavares took it upon himself to win Friday night’s game, landing himself the first star of the night in the process.
It was a silly tripping penalty to Lance Bouma against the Islanders’ Johnny Boychuk that got Tavares started. A giveaway by TJ Brodie resulted in a slapper that ripped past Jonas Hiller, putting New York up by one a few minutes shy of the midway mark of the first period.
Although Calgary outshot New York in the second (by a marginal 9-6), the home team failed to nab an equalizer, much to the disappointment of a crowd still amped up from the Flames’ previous overtime winner against the Edmonton Oilers.
With twelve minutes elapsed in the third, Tavares struck again, this time with an even-strength wrister to double the Isles’ lead to 2-0.However, minutes later Jaroslav Halak’s bid for a shutout to start the new year was dashed by Johnny Gaudreau’s bid to hold on to the title of Rookie of the Month. Gaudreau’s wrist shot resulted in the thirteenth goal for Number 13.
But with less than four minutes left to play, the Flames could not find the back of the net to tie the game and force overtime, and they fell at home to the Islanders 2-1.
It wouldn’t get any easier for Calgary as their next opponent happened to be the notorious Flame-killers dressed as the Detroit Red Wings. But to their credit, the Flames put up a good fight, and the night sparked what would be a fiery comeback from one of the Flames’ more tenured young players.
Mason Raymond opened up the scoring less than two minutes into the game with a wrap-around shot that slipped past Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek. The early lead didn’t last long, however. With a takeaway and a feed from Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan made it 1-1 halfway through the frame.
Both goalies battled throughout the second to stop any pucks from getting past them, and it was shaping up to be a scoreless second period until Henrik Zetterberg happened. With his tenth goal of the season, Zetterberg put Detroit up ahead just minutes before the second closed out.
A hooking call early in the third sent Josh Jooris to the sin bin, and gave the Red Wings a capital opportunity to widen their lead. And they did just that, with Zetterberg sliding the puck to Gustav Nyquist, and then to Justin Abdelkader, who buried it with ease.
The Flames’ bad luck almost replayed itself seconds later, with another hooking call on Nyquist (this time courtesy of Joe Colborne) putting the Flames back on the penalty kill. But instead, Mikael Backlund decided to turn things around and get himself started on the right foot on his first game back since suffering a lower-body injury. Backlund back-handed the puck into the net to bring the Flames to within one.
But Mrazek held his ground for the remainder of the game, and despite Backlund’s attempt to orchestrate a comeback, the Flames lost the game 3-2.
In what was by far their strangest game of 2015 to date (keep in mind that this was only their third game of the year, and stranger games are sure to come), the Flames looked for what should have been an easy win against the Florida Panthers on Friday, January 9th. But on the bright side, spectators got plenty of action throughout 60 minutes, and certainly no shortage of goals being scored.
Two minutes in, Matt Stajan put the Flames on the board. That was followed by two unanswered goals by the Florida boys (Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes, respectively), but before the first period ended, TJ Brodie had things evened out again, taking advantage of a Panthers penalty and scoring himself a powerplay goal.
In his second goal in as many games, Mikael Backlund wasted no time in the second, giving the Flames their second lead of the night. Which was answered twenty seconds later by Panthers winger Sean Bergenheim.
Backlund struck again not long after, providing the helper on TJ Brodie’s eighth goal of the season, but just before the second period wrapped up, Florida’s Jimmy Hayes knotted the game at 4.
The back-and-forth goal scoring continued into the third, but unfortunately for the Flames, it was the Panthers who got the last goal, and the last laugh. Although Stajan nabbed his second of the night with just four minutes to go, his fellow teammates were unable to beat Al Montoya again and Tomas Fleischmann’s backhander proved to be the game-winner for the Florida Panthers, with a final score of 5-4.
Coming dangerously close to having a winless start to the new year, the Flames looked to end a bleak weak on a slightly happier note against their rival Vancouver Canucks. And while they didn’t have Rogers Arena raining goals in order to do so, the job was done.
Making the trek all the way from Europe to start in net, many expected Joni Ortio to be tired and not on his best game. But the 23-year old Finn, much like his predecessor Miikka Kiprusoff, showed no signs of fatigue and was stellar throughout the entire game. Shutout stellar, to be exact.
Ortio made 36 saves to earn his first career NHL shutout, calmly and without any evidence of jetlag. His impressive performance now has him right alongside Jonas Hiller and the currently-injured Karri Ramo in the Flames’ goalie rotation.
Mikael Backlund scored the lone goal of the game, bringing his point tally to five points (three goals, two assists) in three games.
The Flames finally put one in the win column, topping the Canucks 1-0.
It was a disappointing first week of 2015 for the Flames, who seem to have hit a rough patch in their seemingly smooth road to a successful rebuild. But that by no means dictates how the team will continue to play for the remainder of the season. Flashes of optimism are apparent in different ways (such as Mikael Backlund’s fiery comeback, and now the presence of three very capable goalies), and more are sure to present themselves in the weeks to come, with so much depth on the young and emerging team.
After a much-needed five day break, the Flames are back at it against the Coyotes in sunny Arizona on Thursday night.
Stay tuned for Week Twelve of The Flames Files and follow the Calgary Flames’ progress in the 2014-2015 season.
Graduate of Mount Royal University’s Journalism program and a freelance sports writer from Calgary, Alberta.