That was not fun. Another game where the Calgary Flames get an early lead, and another game where the Edmonton Oilers find a way to come back, and this time win the game. Connor McDavid is so much fun to watch when he isn’t playing against the Flames. When he is against the team you root for, it is the most painful, gut wrenching, heart rate-accelerating experience you can ever experience. I am instantly tense and am biting my nails whenever he steps on the ice. The Oilers won, and McDavid had a large part for why they did, but he got a lot of help from other factors that were wearing white and black as well.
If you are a referee, referee the game
I am not one to make excuses for whenever the Flames lose. I try my best to not live in delusion and to be critical. If the Flames played poorly, I will be the first to admit it. If you have been reading my previous Afterburners, you will know that I am not shy to speak my mind about how bad the Flames may have played. This is not one of those nights.
The officials were atrocious last night. There is no other way around it. The calls were inconsistent, and even missed many times. First off, we need to talk about the blatant cross check on Johnny Gaudreau that somehow didn’t end up as a power play.
I do not understand how a man who is listed as 150 pounds (who probably weighs less than that) can get cross checked in the back by another man who weighs almost 50 pounds more and be called for embellishment. Gaudreau didn’t even have the puck, he isn’t expecting to get cross checked from behind, of course he will fall.
This was a garbage call that should have resulted in a power play for the Flames. I genuinely don’t know what Gaudreau is supposed to do here. Withstand the force of a 50 pound difference? Expect to be cross checked at any moment? Suddenly gain 50 pounds on the bench? Maybe, just maybe, instead of him having to do any of those unrealistic things, the referees should do their literal job and call the rulebook.
Next is another missed call on Darnell Nurse. Seconds before Tyler Toffoli’s power play goal, Nurse decides to cross check Toffoli on the arm so hard that he snaps his stick. That is an automatic penalty. However these refs see it differently. Not sure why? But for some reason that isn’t an penalty and I would love to learn why.
The second missed call is Nurse literally lifting his stick and getting it in the face of Toffoli after he scores his goal and skates by the bench. The referee called a high sticking penalty on Nurse and rightfully so. But before they even called that, Tkachuk skated by and gave Nurse a shove. It was probably even weaker than the cross check that Evan Bouchard gave Gaudreau that caused him to “dive”. What do the referees decide to do? Send both Nurse and Tkachuk to the box. Why? Again, I do not know. It makes no sense.
Another instance of a missed call was when Duncan Keith scored his goal. At first glance, you will wonder “wow how did McDavid fight off Andersson like that?” You will then realize that McDavid literally had a hold of Andersson’s stick before he passed the puck to Keith. Somehow, again, for whatever reason, not a penalty. Personally, I think Gaudreau could fight off a 4000 pound elephant in a puck battle if holding a player’s stick was allowed. Spoiler alert, it isn’t, and holding the stick is obviously a penalty. However for these refs, it is somehow allowed.
I have no problem with a team that I root for losing a game if they get outplayed by their opponent—if the officiating is consistent. That is how the game is and it is how it should work. Last night however, was a story of the Flames being stripped of calls, and on the other side, the Oilers getting gifted with opportunities. The Flames outplayed the Oilers at 5v5 by a healthy amount as well, but if you look at all situations, it favours the Oilers.
The officiating needs to be better, because last night was honestly embarrassing.
Overall play was not as physical
If you compare Game 1 to Game 2, I think it is very fair to say that the Flames were not going for many big hits as much. In Game 1, we say Lucic hit whatever he saw, and they were mean physical hits as well. This game, I didn’t see much of that at all.
I think the Flames need to get back to how they were hitting in Game 1. Get under the Oilers’ skin, and make it a pain for them to skate up the ice with the puck. Make it difficult for the team to even set up a play because they will be scared to get hit. This is the playoffs, and this is the biggest rivalry in the league. If the Flames can connect on their hits like they did in Game 1, more chances will come as a result.
Please defend McDavid
I know it is easier said than done. I know that missing Chris Tanev is a massive blow to the Flames defence. But this was another night where McDavid got multiple points. If the Flames want any chance of winning this series, they need to get back to the drawing board, and figure out how they are going to defend him.
In this series, McDavid has six points. The Oilers have scored 11 goals total in this series. This means McDavid has been involved in more than half of the Oilers goals against the Flames. That can not happen. I know he is the best player in the world, but hockey is not a one-man sport. Connor McDavid should not be able to do whatever he wants against the Flames’ defence. The only reason why the Oilers have made this series competitive is because of McDavid. He is single handedly keeping his team in this series.
I’m not sure how, but the Flames need to come up with a new strategy that can allow the team to contain McDavid on the ice. Because right now, whenever McDavid hops over the boards to enter the play, the Flames honestly look like they forgot how to play hockey. Again, I know it is easier said than done, but this is the playoffs, figure it out.
The Flames are the better team
At 5v5, the Flames had a CF% of 60.23%, HDCF% of 67%, a xGF of 2.06, and a xGA of 1.52. The Calgary Flames are the better team. The reason why they faced trouble today was due to their inability to stay at 5v5 for majority of the game. Sure, some of that is due to the fact that the referees suddenly forgot how to do their job. But some of the blame also falls on the Flames too.
There were only 37 minutes of 5v5 during the game. That is not good enough. The Flames were the best 5v5 team during the regular season. They need to find a way to keep the game at 5v5, and not get themselves in the penalty box. There isn’t much that Edmonton can do to defend the Flames 5v5, and as a result, the Flames need to use that to their advantage. Gifting McDavid a chance to go 5v4 and dominate on the power play is not the best way to try and win a game.
Learn from it
Atrocious refereeing aside, the Flames absolutely need to learn from their mistakes. Clearly, what they are doing to defend McDavid is not even close to good enough, and if they stick to what they are doing, they will not be happy with the result. The team needs to learn how to stay at 5v5, and how to slow down McDavid. If they can conquer that, then the Flames should not have any problem with this team. The Flames have until Game 3 on Sunday to learn, I sure hope they do.