In the Calgary Flames‘ last game before Christmas, they welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to the Saddledome. Travis Hamonic was placed on the IR after leaving the first period against the St. Louis Blues with a groin injury. Rasmus Andersson was called up, but Matt Bartkowski ultimately slotted in.
Even before the first minute of the game elapsed, TJ Brodie hit the post on one end and failed to defend against Max Pacioretty on the ensuing Canadiens breakout on the other end, leading to a backhand goal that snuck past Mike Smith. Paul Byron gifted the Flames by putting himself offside, thus nullifying the early Canadiens lead.
This didn’t stop the Canadiens from getting an early lead, however, as Byron Froese scored halfway through the first frame on a tip off a Jordie Benn wrist shot. The Flames followed their playbook and went into the first intermission trailing, much to no one’s surprise.
The second didn’t go much better as the Flames showed no signs of life, going stretches without registering a shot attempt. Nicolas Deslauriers scored for the Canadiens to put them up by two with a little over half the period left.
The Flames would have to rely on the third period comeback to have any chance of walking away with points, but started the period off on the wrong foot, as Matthew Tkachuk was in the penalty box serving the remainder of a too many men bench minor. Montreal sent a flurry of shots and Brendan Gallagher scored not too long after their powerplay expired. All this happened even before the Flames registered a shot attempt.
At this point, the game was pretty much over, and the Flames would be trying to save face by not succumbing to a Carey Price shutout before they got their holiday break. Michael Frolik sent a puck towards the post and hit it exactly as the Flames have done so well. Thankfully Micheal Ferland was there to put in the rebound.
The Flames spent about five minutes not shooting the puck after the Ferland goal before realizing they were losing. In the final five minutes of the game, they clawed their way back into a thrilling finish. Byron made his case of wanting to be a Flame again abundantly clear as he took a high-sticking penalty to give his former team a powerplay in the dying minutes of the game.
The Flames did the unthinkable and scored. Tkachuk finished an excellent passing sequence from Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund. However, it was too little too late as they couldn’t score for a third time. To rub salt in the would, the Flames got a one second powerplay to end the game, all just to lower their powerplay percentage.
|All Situations||5v5||SVA 5v5|
5v5 Player Stats
- Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski, and Garnet Hathaway each had 2 HDCF.
- Matt Bartkowski only registered one individual CF, the only Flames defenseman to have less than three iCF.
- The third pairing of Brett Kulak and Bartkowski had a 0.0 HDCF%, giving up 7 HDCF.
- Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, and Tomas Plekanec dominated the Flames, posting CF% of 88.9, 88.2, and 80.0 respectively.
- Pacioretty had a game-worst 30.6 CF%.
- Former Flames Byron and David Schlemko didn’t play their best hockey at the Saddledome, they both posted 25 HDCF%.
Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick
Player of the Game
Tkachuk stood out on multiple occasions. He had a physicality to his game last night, racking up a few hits to give the Flames some much needed momentum. It’d be egregious to leave off the fact that he found his way onto the scoresheet while on the powerplay.
Thoughts on the Game
Bill: The Flames were their own worst enemy tonight, failing to get anything going for most of the night. Their transitional game was at pre-season calibre, and they had no edge in their play. The away team put forth a much better effort than the lacklustre Flames did. Interestingly enough, both teams’ first lines seemed pretty ineffective last night, and Montreal’s second line ran over the entire Flames roster no matter what combination.
The Flames as a team were worse off in almost every statistical category and simply did not play at the level they needed to, especially with how tight the playoff race is already shaping out to be. Hopefully they’ll get back into form and play those dominant games we’ve seen them play for big chunks of this season. By then, maybe luck will also join the team and some deserved wins will follow. Happy holidays!
John: Fans should be looking for a refund for their tickets last night, myself included. The Flames once again decided to show up only in the final five minutes, which does not justify earning two points. Full credit to the Canadiens as they had all the momentum and undeniable spark all game. The Flames may have put forth a listless effort, but Montreal deserved to win this game, so kudos to them.
There is simply too much about last night’s game that grinds my gears I don’t even know where to start. Gulutzan’s line matching was once again putrid in every sense of the word. At one point he deployed the fourth line and third pairing against Montreal’s top line, which ended in them being pinned in their own zone. His line mixing should have come much earlier in the game, as it clearly sparked their offense too late. His choice to swap Frolik and Gaudreau was interesting, as a Ferland / Tkachuck jumble had worked in the past. He has to take advantage of the last change on home ice, and make quicker lineup decisions during a game like last night.
Gaudreau and Sean Monahan looked to be lost on the ice all night. Currently in the midst of a slump, the two star forwards were unable to generate any clear zone entries or sustained pressure. Gaudreau was fumbling with the puck all night and Monahan was never able to to get a clear lane to shoot. Looks will eventually come for these two, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them separated heading into the next game.
The Brodie and Michael Stone pairing, which was solid last season, looks to have lost that chemistry. It may be temporary, but being a combined -3 doesn’t bode well for this pairing’s future. This of course factors in with the usage of Bartkowski. Choosing to play him over Andersson causes Gulutzan to set his pairings in an unfavorable manner. A Brodie – Andersson and Stone – Kulak defensive corps looks astronomically better.
Heading into the Christmas break, the Flames are on the outside looking in to the playoff picture. With the surging Oilers only five points behind the Flames, things don’t look to be overly optimistic. They aren’t out by any means, but with the teams that surround them mostly having “underachieving” first halves it’s a dangerous game to be playing. It’s playoffs or bust for this team, and right now they don’t look like a playoff team.
What needs to be fixed? First Period Play.
The Flames have a knack for starting games half asleep, giving the other team momentum. This type of play is wholly frustrating and not indicative of the type of team the Flames are capable of being. It’s slowly shaping their identity and other teams are starting to exploit it. The Flames far too often play as if they can escape the first twenty minutes unscathed, but that is not always the case. They need to open the game with more energy and hope to catch their opponents off guard.
What needs to continue? Scratching Bartkowski.
The Flames were bad and Bartkowski did zero things to alleviate this. Not only did Kulak suffer from Bartkowsitis, Andersson was also robbed of his deserved spot in the lineup. The Flames definitely need to send Bartkowski to Siberia or at least the minors. Scratching him also works for the time being.
The Flames head to California to play a back-to-back against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks picked up a win against the Flames in their first meeting of the season. They sit one point ahead of the Flames and sit third in the Pacific Division. If the Flames intend on making up ground sooner rather than later, these are the games they need to capitalize on. There’s no denying how big this trip will be for the Pacific teams, and they’ll definitely give a better idea of how the playoff race might pan out. Playing on the 28th means that we can’t speculate on lineup choices quite yet.