Hockey is finally back! The Calgary Flames opened the 2018-19 season on the road in Vancouver last night to face the Canucks. The Flames entered the contest looking to put an end to the longest active losing streak in season openers in the NHL at 0-7-1.
Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki were playing in their first games for the Flames, and both looked good early on. Unfortunately for Dube, his first shift lasted all but eight seconds, as the rookie was taken down hard on an open ice hit by Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson would receive an interference penalty on the play and though Dube was fine, the Flames failed to score on the ensuing powerplay opportunity. Following the powerplay, Travis Hamonic fought Gudbranson but left the ice and returned with a face shield. There was no update on Hamonic after the game, but it looks like he may have been injured in the fight.
The first period was back and forth with both goalies having to be sharp early. The shaky Mike Smith of the preseason was nowhere to be found, and the stead Smith seemed to be tending the net for the Flames. He would surrender the game’s first goal however, to Canucks’ rookie sensation Elias Pettersson on a beautiful snipe on a two-on-one. That was the only goal scored in the first two periods, despite the Flames having four powerplay chances.
The third period was where the offense really exploded for both teams. In the first 2:20 of the period, the Canucks scored twice to expand their lead to 3-0. Unfortunately their third goal off the stick of Brendan Leipsic would prove to be the game winner. Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan scored later in the period, but goals by Jake Virtanen and an empty netter from Tyler Motte would seal the deal.
It’s still early, but the Flames sit in last place in the Pacific Division with a record of 0-1-0. Their season opener losing streak is still an NHL worst at 0-8-1.
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Dube – Ryan – Neal
Bennett – Jankowski – Czarnik
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Valimaki – Stone
Baertschi – Horvat – Boeser
Goldobin – Pettersson – Eriksson
Leipsic – Sutter – Motte
Granlund – Beagle – Virtanen
Edler – Tanev
Del Zotto – Stecher
Pouliot – Gudbranson
Thoughts on the Game
With heightened expectations heading into the season, the season opener against a very mediocre Canucks team should have been an easy win. So it’s easy to see why there is a bit of panic and frustration in the air already, despite it being just one day into the season.
The Flames didn’t deserve to win this game. They out shot, out chanced, and at 5v5 outplayed the Canucks for most of the game. However, when you go 0/7 on the powerplay, you have no business beating even the worst team in the league. The powerplay needs to be a team’s weapon to make undisciplined opponents pay, and the Flames simply didn’t do that. It was rinse and repeat from last season where they’d use the drop pass in the neutral zone to spring Johnny Gaudreau and try to enter the zone. The Canucks clearly knew this, and easily cleared almost every attempt the Flames made to enter the zone.
In actuality, the powerplay was really the only glaring hole in the Flames’ game last night. They generated a ton of chances at even strength and the Mikael Backlund-Tkachuk pair looked excellent throughout. Once they started to try midway through the third period, they looked very dangerous every single shift. The rookies looked good; Dube drew two penalties in his debut and played both sides of special teams, and Valimaki made some smart plays and didn’t look out of place. It was one game, there’s no reason to overreact. But the Flames do need to clean up that PP and start trying to play hockey a little earlier.
The late game push from the team was better than any 12 minute segment I saw all of last season. It’s clear this team is much improved and it does look like they started to figure it out and gain urgency as the game progressed. Smith’s stats don’t look great after letting in four goals, but he did play quite well and kept the Flames alive for large stretches of the match. He is not the one to hang this loss on and, in fact, his play last night should allow us to let out a sigh of relief.
Let’s chalk last night’s loss up to figuring out a new team and system, and stay positive knowing the Flames did a lot of good things last night.
Opponent: Vancouver Canucks @ CGY
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images