To start off their six game road trip, the Calgary Flames visited the Little Caesar’s Arena for their second and final matchup of the season against the Detroit Red Wings. With starting goalie Mike Smith injured, Eddie Lack got his second start of the season. Things went south rather quickly as the Flames found themselves once again starting off a game half asleep. Unfortunately, Smith was not the team’s snooze button last night. Lack gave up five goals on 15 shots before being replaced by emergency recall Jon Gillies in the second period.
As the chances of a comeback quickly disappeared, the game went off the rails and turned into a red-on-red bloodbath. Brett Kulak got in his first NHL bout against Luke Witkowski. Chaos ensued as Travis Hamonic and Anthony Mantha had a fight of their own, all while Witkowski made his way back to the ice after being ejected.
Flames Statistical Breakdown
|All Situations||5v5||SVA 5v5|
5v5 Player Stats
- TJ Brodie and Hamonic posted team-worst CF% of 22.2% and 18.8%, respectively —the next worst players were Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar, both at 46.2%
- Kulak and Michael Stone posted team-best CF% of 78.3 and 76.9%, respectively
Stats courtesy: hockeystats.ca | hockeyviz.com | Natural Stat Trick
Player of the Game
Kulak gets the honours for his work last night. Not only did he drop his gloves to go head to head against someone 23 lbs heavier, he also played a large role in shot generation. When he and Stone were on the ice, the Flames found themselves attacking more often than they were defending. Kulak saw six teammates post 100% CF when he was on the ice, most notably Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund, who were both 8-0 in Corsi events with Kulak (Michael Frolik was 12-1).
Thoughts on the Game
Bill: Tuning in for the third period, I couldn’t help but feel agitated even before play resumed. Easily one of the poorest games to start a road trip in recent history. If there’s any solace in this team right now, it’s that they have gotten great results at 5v5, consistently being the better team. The Flames need to play more even-strength hockey and they’ll win more games. Of course they’re going to have to rework their special teams; tonight was as good an indicator as any that their special teams play is abhorrent.
There are plenty of good learning moments in the multitude of misplays, and the Flames will have to shake off any bad feelings quickly. With any luck, the heated showdown at the end of the game will serve as a turning point in the season for the Flames, and they’ll surge forward with unbeatable tenacity. It’s been done before, who’s to say it can’t happen again.
John: Before I dive into the late game brawl, its worth mentioning that up until that point in the game it was truly an embarrassing display by the Flames. Turnovers led to goals, penalties led to even more goals, and shaky goaltending provided little to no backbone for the team to get behind. From the opening goal you got the sense of where the game was going, and it was not pretty.
That being said, the rough stuff at the end of the game left me both inspired and perplexed. I understand when people say there shouldn’t be fighting in hockey, but when your team is being embarrassed sometimes it’s the perfect medicine. I’m not going to lie and say I knew who Witkowski was before this game; it’s safe to say he doesn’t play a critical role on this young, skilled Red Wings team. I’ll describe him as boneheaded for two reasons. One being that he came back on the ice after being ejected from the game, violating Rule 70.6 Game Misconduct Penalty, and should be suspended for 10 games. The second being his ground pound of Kulak after the fight had been decided. I would assume the extra shove to the ground, which Kulak was not prepared for, was the match that started the fire. On the Flames side, expect to see Micheal Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk receive some sort of discipline as a result of last nights game. Ferland was throwing punches from the bench, while Tkachuk’s “spearing” penalty will have the league doing a deep dive into the game footage. While I don’t see a suspendable offense on Tkachuk’s part, he no longer has the benefit of the doubt and will most likely have some lighter pockets come this afternoon.
Karim: We’ve talked about the discipline and special teams issues already, so I’m going to take a stab at the goaltending. It’s no secret that outside of Johnny Gaudreau, Smith has easily been the best player for the Flames this year. He bailed them out of several games early on when they were still figuring out their game, and even as his play expectedly declined in the last week or so, he was still able to make key saves and use his excellent puck moving skills to aid his defensemen in negating forechecks. I was hopeful that Lack would at least be serviceable like he was in relief against the St. Louis Blues on Monday. I would say that he didn’t have a real chance to stop three of the five goals he let in. It’s not necessarily fair to pin the loss on Lack (or Gillies for that matter), but after last night I am genuinely worried about how the Flames will manage to win games down the stretch as Smith needs more nights off. I hope Smith is healthy enough to back up on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, but I’d really like to see Lack get one more start to redeem himself from a shaky performance last night.
Outside of goaltending struggles, the rest of the blame for last night’s loss can probably be assigned to the 3M line. Tkachuk was the only M who seemed to have any jump and could make plays; Backlund had one of his most forgettable nights in a long, long time. By no means do I expect to see this trio struggle for any extended period of time, but it just goes to show how much the Flames rely on them to be elite night in and night out.
What needs to be fixed? The Penalty Kill.
After last nights game, the Flames now find themselves ranked dead last in the league, operating at a 70.8% clip. This is nearly 2% lower than the 30th ranked team, and it showed last night. The same horrors from last season have propagated themselves to the first 18 games. I would expect Paul Gerrard to take a long, hard look at his current layout and make some serious adjustments moving forward. Perhaps Matt Stajan, who has been in the press box the last few games, will return to the lineup as he has been a constant on the Flames PK. He would likely replace Curtis Lazar who has been decidedly average this year.
What need to continue? Johnny Gaudreau’s MVP Play.
The Flames were only able to muster two goals against last night, Gaudreau being a key contributor to both. Another multi-point night (1G 1A) extended his point streak to eight games. With a matchup against his hometown team, with his family in attendance, another big game is exactly what this team needs.
The Flames have little time to dwell on their defeat, as they play the Flyers Saturday afternoon. The Flyers have had scoring struggles as of late as they were shutout twice in a row by the Minnesota Wild. However, the Flyers will definitely pose a good challenge as similar to the Flames, they have their own high scoring top line consisting of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek.
Interestingly enough, these two teams boast extremely similar 5v5 PDOs; their shooting and save percentages aren’t too far off from one another. It should be an interesting battle of two relatively snake-bitten teams who receive quality goaltending to make up for it — albeit the Flames may still be without Smith. Their first game against Brian Elliott, the Flames are probably itching to light him up.