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About Last Night #67: Flames’ playoff hopes take another hit with OT loss to Penguins

All signs pointed to last nights outing against the defending champions being another deflating loss for the Flames. Jon Gillies surrendered two goals in the first 3:05 of the game and the Flames were playing comeback almost since the opening faceoff. It did not look promising, and the Flames desperately needed points to climb back into the playoff conversation.

However, in a feat of resilience that has been a rarity all season long, the Flames evened the game off goals by Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund to tie the game going into the first intermission. Backlund’s goal was nothing short of beautiful, and it capped what actually ended up being a dominant opening frame for the Flames. They fired 16 shots on Tristan Jarry, 13 of them being scoring chances. If it wasn’t for Gillies’ gaffes early, they would have likely been ahead.

The Penguins game back harder in the second, and took the lead with a nice shot by Kris Letang with just under three minutes left in the middle period. Again, the Flames evened the score off a scramble goal by Troy Brouwer with less than three seconds left.

The game went to extra time and the Flames failed to capitalize on several good scoring opportunities, including a Johnny Gaudreau breakaway (that was actually a 2-on-0) that was shot wide. Seconds later, Justin Schultz hammered home a one-timer to end the game.

Player of the Game: Mikael Backlund

Statistical Breakdown

Team Stats

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF 56.1% 58.2% 58.7%
SCF 57.1% 61.1% 62.7%
HDCF 58.1% 63.0% 64.8%

5v5 Player Stats

  • Brouwer led the Flames with 69.7% CF.
  • Micheal Ferland posted a team worst 36.8% CF. Only three other Flames players were below 50% CF in the game.
  • Giordano had 17 scoring chances and finished with 81.0% SCF.
  • Just four Penguins players finished above 50% CF, Phil Kessel leading the way with 60.9% CF.
  • Conor Sheary was a game worst 27.3% CF.
Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick

Thoughts on the Game

To say that the Flames lost a big one last night would be an understatement. In what has become an all too familiar outcome, the Flames put forward an utterly dominant effort against one of the best teams in the league, and just couldn’t come away with a win. It’s hard not to pin this one on Gillies who truly had a rough night, but at the end of the day, it’s a team sport and everyone needs to be held accountable.

The Flames had 38 scoring chances, 18 of them being high danger, and just couldn’t close out a game when it really mattered. With just the single point earned, the Flames did little to offset what’s been a disastrous few weeks of hockey.

Mike Smith has masked a lot of team deficiencies and shortcomings this season. Gillies and David Rittich are not good enough to be starters in the NHL by any means, but I think the latest string of losses has more to do with these shortcomings being exposed rather than sub-par goaltending. There are reports that Smith could be back as early as March 11, but by then it could be too late. It’s apparently quite difficult to get vibranium across international borders – who knew?

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, the Flames are definitely still in the playoff conversation. Their odds aren’t very good, but there’s still a very real chance that they sneak in. It would require some serious help from the other bubble teams, but it could very well happen. The Flames’ schedule is one of the most favourable in the league and they just need to pull their proverbial socks up and start winning games.

Backlund’s effort to completely undress Letang last night for a brilliant game tying goal was something else. This guy is so skilled and if the Flames manage to get into the postseason, he’ll be a big reason why. Backlund is the key cog in the Flames’ wheel and they need him to be at his absolute best for them to have any shot of playing meaningful hockey in the spring.

Hats off to Brouwer who was excellent last night. For those who care, he earned third star honours in the loss.

Don’t give up yet, there is still hope.

Moving Forward

What needs to be fixed? Letting in softies.

It’s crunch time. It’s not easy to win when your goalie lets in a soft goal every game. Both Gillies and Rittich need to overperform and start playing like NHL goalies, even though neither of them are.

What needs to continue? Backlund.  

Discussed earlier, but the success of this team rests more in Backlund’s hands than it does in any other player’s, in my opinion. He needs to continue to be the star we know he is.

Next Game

The Flames head to New York State to face the Buffalo Sabres tomorow night. The Sabres are a dreadful hockey team and the Flames cannot leave without a win. If they don’t earn two points, they’re likely done for good.

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