The Calgary Flames were finally, finally, back in action last night after an extended nine day break. It was a long hiatus without Flames hockey, especially with the team being on an absolute tear as of recent. The Flames entered Friday night’s contest against the Washington Capitals on a nine game point streak, and remained atop the Western Conference all that time. The Capitals on the other hand had entered losing their past seven games and were without the help of leading goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin.
Surely you know where we are going with this.
The Flames made a shockingly surprising move earlier in the day, announcing that Mike Smith would be starting in goal. Clearly the Flames had a plan up their sleeves with having Smith start in net, but still perplexing based on David Rittich‘s resume. More on this later.
Both teams got off to the expected starts after a long hiatus. Not quite the best hockey ever played, but still had their moments. The Capitals fourth line clearly didn’t seem to have taken any time off, as both Nic Dowd and Dmitrij Jaskin potted first period goals. This was offset by easily one of the best Flames goals of the year, and maybe in the entire league, by Mikael Backlund. If you haven’t already seen it, drop everything and watch it over and over again. Unfortunately, it only counted for a single goal, which meant the Flames were down 2-1 after the first.
The Flames also suffered a big loss in the opening period, as Travis Hamonic would leave with a lower-body injury. Although he returned briefly later, he eventually left the game for good.
In the second period, the Capitals extended their lead off of a Tom Wilson wrist shot from just outside the faceoff circle. Normally a make-able save, Smith seemed to be off balance coming across the crease allowing the far side to open up just enough for Wilson. Luckily, the Flames struck right back, with Garnet Hathaway deflecting a T.J. Brodie point shot past Braden Holtby. The score would remain that way for the remainder of the second period, leading to the Flames being down a goal entering the final frame.
The Flames would have some chances in the opening half of the period, but they wouldn’t be able to break through until the 12 minute mark. At this time, Elias Lindholm perfectly re-directed a Johnny Gaudreau wrister to tie the game at three. The Flames had yet again come back in the third period.
Unfortunately, Backlund would commit a late holding penalty with just under two minutes left to give the Capitals a chance; a chance they took full advantage of. With just under a minute to play, a close call on the zone entry would lead to confusion between the Flames penalty killers. This allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to get enough space and tuck a shot top corner past Smith, giving the Capitals the 4-3 lead. A lead they would not give up, even to the pesky Flames.
Although the game was over, the real fireworks came after the final horn. A late cheap shot by Nicklas Backstrom on Gaudreau would lead to chaos that broke out into a few fights. Although they eventually left the ice, I would assume this game could be looked at after the fact.
Regardless, the Flames point streak was snapped at nine games with the 4-3 loss.
|All Situations||5v5||SVA 5v5|
5v5 Player Stats
- Norris Trophy front-runner Mark Giordano posted a game high 69.2%, with his partner Brodie close behind at 68.0%
- The Flames only had five players with negative possession ratings
- Matthew Tkachuk accounted for three iHDCF
- Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson were the two lowest CF% on the team at 40.7% and 32.1% respectively
- Brooks Orpik led his team in CF% at 60.7%
- In addition to Orpik, only one other player had a positive possession rating
- Although he scored the winning goal, Kuznetsov was on the ice for nine HDCA
Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Bennett – Jankowski – Neal
Hathaway – Ryan – Mangiapane
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kylington – Andersson
Stephenson – Backstrom – Oshie
Vrana – Kuznetsov – Wilson
Connolly – Eller – Smith-Pelly
Jaskin – Dowd – Burakovsky
Kempny – Carlson
Orlov – Niskanen
Orpik – Bowey
Stats courtesy: DailyFaceoff
Thoughts on the Game
I have a lot of thought about last night’s contest. Although the Flames are still in a phenomenal position, these thoughts still need to be shared.
First off, it makes zero sense to go with Smith in net. Sure he stopped 36 of 40 shots that he faced, and made some key saves, but the team can’t be expected to always put up four or five goals when they have Smith in net. A few of the goals last night were again inexplicable, and at this point it’s hard to see the silver lining in Smith’s game. The team doesn’t appear to play with confidence and instead of expecting a save, they look to exhale every time he makes one. There has to be a move coming soon.
To give Smith a bit of a break, I would love to know what Derek Ryan and Andersson were doing on the final goal. Ryan looked to completely stop at the blueline, almost assuming it was offside, while Andersson couldn’t decide to pinch or retreat and got caught in the cross hairs. It was poor excecution that easily could have helped the team extend its point streak.
On the other hand, the officiating was once again a huge question mark. From the no-call on Tkachuk interference, to a handful of other incidents, it’s unfortunate that the story after the game has to be on the officiating. It is an important part of the game, as long as it doesn’t mess with the complete fabric of it.
The Gaud, the Bad, and the Ugly
Bad: James Neal had two glorious opportunities to pot a goal last night, and yet was snake-bitten. He’s getting his chances, but it’s game #52. Time to start finishing off some chances.
Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes
Standings: 5th in the Metropolitan
Season Series: 1-0-0