We’re three games deep on the NHL season and the Calgary Flames are 1–1–1, a perfect .500. It’s been three games with three unique performances, to say the least. It’s early, but for many reasons the 2023–24 Flames have many similarities to the 2022–23 Flames that they can’t seem to shake quite yet.
5v5 offensive woes and inconsistency
The home opener starred Andrew Mangiapane and Jacob Markstrom. Mangiapane had two goals and a beautiful primary assist to set up Elias Lindholm for the game-winner late in the third. Markstrom showed he’s ready to change the narrative this season and continue his career trend of bounce-back season performances. Markstrom bailed out the defence multiple times allowing three goals on 40 shots, earning the third star.
However, the offence lacked chemistry aside from Mangiapane who also scored the only power play goal. Overall it was a well-fought win but lacked 5v5 offence.
The third period against Pittsburgh on Saturday brought many of the same issues. The Flames gave up a goal early and the defence fell apart afterwards. The Penguins scored four unanswered before Jonathan Huberdeau got on the scoreboard making it 4–2. Jacob Markstrom played well for much of the game but trailed off at the end of the game.
5v5 offence was lacklustre again. It led to Ryan Huska shuffling the lines with the Flames only scoring three 5v5 goals through their first two games. The Flames couldn’t buy a goal at even strength last season and unfortunately, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri haven’t had the hot start everyone hoped for.
Looking at how they’re managing the puck, the team continues to adopt the shoot from anywhere and take quantity over quality. It’s a trend that should not continue as they’re going to just outshoot their opponents more often than they outscore them, and have themselves wondering why nothing is going in.
It seems the same issues that haunted the Flames last season may be back again just in time for Halloween.
Blown leads, weak goals and posts
It seemed the game against Washington last night was a culmination of everything that happened last season. The Flames outshot the Capitals in the first period and played really quite well, taking a 2–0 lead. Adam Ruzicka scored in the slot from Noah Hanifin to open the game. Hanifin gained a second primary assist on a beautiful tip by Dillon Dube to score on the power play.
Matthew Phillips then scored his first career goal, getting revenge against his hometown and former team. To make things worse, Sonny Milano assisted the goal. Milano signed a PTO with the Flames last season during training camp to ultimately be cut from the opening roster. As much as it hurts, it’s a storybook first NHL goal for the Calgary product. It’s great to finally see the forward breakout into the league with his coach Mitch Love by his side. Both undoubtedly deserved their opportunities.
Not long after the first goal, the Capitals tied up in the game on a weak shot that Jacob Markstrom would undoubtedly like back.
Just like that, a blown lead after a double-digit shot differential to start the game, a weak goal for the opponent, and finishing the game on their heels hoping for overtime. And in overtime, the Flames took a penalty. Deja vu anyone? Things are looking eerily similar… what’s next, hitting posts?
Well, the shootout was the 2022–23 cherry on top as Markstrom let Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s slow approach and fast shot sneak through as the only goal of the shootout. Two Calgary shots ended up hitting posts. Yegor Sharengovich nailed the crossbar and Nazem Kadri rang one off the post to close out the game.
Destined for frustration?
Consistency seems to be plaguing the Calgary Flames to begin the season once again.
The 5v5 scoring continues to be an issue from last season while Ryan Huska struggles to find chemistry. It’s very early though, with only 3.64% of the schedule in the rearview mirror. At .500 the Flames are doing good all things considered. It’s nothing worth hitting the panic button over, but the Flames don’t look like they’re playing up to their expectations.
That change in the atmosphere where many players have said it’s fun to go to the rink again… it will disappear fast if they continue playing the way they are. So for now, give the team time to settle in and hopefully gel after this road trip. The first 10 games can be very telling for the Flames. Confidence is key for this group and they have to keep their heads high and focus on the next game. The road trip continues Thursday in Buffalo and will hopefully see the team break out offensively and command a game for all three periods.