October 30 2013 11:33PM
(photo courtesy In Goal Magazine)
Visits from the Toronto Maple Leafs are weird. There's more Toronto media around than Calgary media, it seems, and the same phenomenon extends to the crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Potentially even more than visits from the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto games in Calgary turn the C of Red into an ocean of blue Leafs jerseys. Despite this, the Flames have had some success in such circumstances, although they must be a bit odd for the players.
Toronto visited Calgary for their only trip to the 'Dome this season. The game began rather oddly, with the news that Mikael Backlund was a healthy scratch. The game only got more wacky from there, with the Flames playing perhaps their best 60 minutes of the year but walking away disappointed, primarily due to the efforts of Toronto's goaltender.
The Flames came out flying in the first period, whooshing past the Leafs here and then and everywhere. Heck, Brian McGrattan even dropped the mitts and put a punchin' on Frazer McLaren. The Leafs looked tentative five-on-five, but thankfully for them the Flames took a penalty. With Dennis Wideman in the box, the Leafs had two minutes to figure out their passing rhythm. The penalty expired, a shot went wide and Joffrey Lupul knocked in a rebound to put the Buds up 1-0 – a mere five seconds after Wideman stepped out of the box.
The remainder of the first frame was a bit more even, although the Flames kept carrying the play. Despite out-shooting the Maple Leafs, the hometown club couldn't solve Jonathan Bernier. Then late in the period, with the Leafs' Dave Bolland off for slashing, Jay McClement and James Van Riemsdyk came down on a two-on-two rush and Van Riemsdyk scored far glove-side on Karri Ramo. On a Flames power-play. With four seconds left in the period. Giving up goals late in close periods has been a habit of this Flames club, and not a good one. The first period ended with Calgary down 2-0, despite out-shooting Toronto 15-7, out-Corsi-ing them 27-13 and out-chancing them 12-7.. The Leafs had the edge in face-offs 15-10.
The Flames owned the second. Almost every minute of it, in fact. The period began with some really nice passing on the power-play, but they seemed to hesitate on shooting a bit and that hesitation killed some of ther chances. The rest of the period was essentially a loop – Calgary gets into the zone, gets a few shots off, Toronto clears it out. Rinse and repeat. But momentum shifted late in the second, as Carter Ashton hit Derek Smith right in the numbers, putting #27 on his face and prompting some fist-punching from Shane O'Brien. Oddly, Ashton got a boarding penalty (and a broken nose) while O'Brien got an instigator penalty. Nevertheless, off the face-off, Curtis Glencross fed a beautiful pass to Matt Stajan, and the Franchise didn't hesitate in putting the puck past Bernier to bring Calgary within one goal. Overall in the second, Calgary out-shot Toronto 20-8, out-Corsied them 31-18 and out-chanced them 9-3. The Leafs had a slight edge in face-offs 13-12, which – along with Bernier's brilliance – probably kept the period from being a total bloodbath.
There was considerably less pressure from Flames early, and the Leafs showed a bit more defensive structure. Mid-way through the period, Brodie pinched and David Clarkson stole the puck, going in on Chris Butler all alone. Clarkson's shot attempt was blocked, but Mason Raymond jammed in the rebound to put the Leafs back up by two. That's the kind of play that Mark Giordano probably would've handled differently than Butler did – Giordano would probably stand up and attempt to block the lane, Butler went for a sliding shot block.
With five minutes left in the period, Calgary's tenacity paid off. Stajan's board-work kept the puck in Toronto's zone. Wideman passed it to Russell, whose point shot got through traffic and went in off David Jones' leg and past Bernier to bring the Flames back within one. David Clarkson took a boarding penalty with three minutes left to set up a dramatic finish. Unfortunately, the Flames pulled their goalie, Hudler coughed up the puck at the blueline and Paul Ranger scored a long empty-netter to put the Maple Leafs up two once again, and that was all she wrote for the Flames on this evening.
In the third, Calgary out-shot Toronto 8-7, out-Corsied them 16-12. Toronto out-chanced the Flames 5-3 in the final frame and had the edge in face-offs 15-12.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
Toronto's goalie was much, much better than Calgary's. Jonathan Bernier stood on his head, stopping 41 pucks and making a lot of saves that he probably had no business making. Put an average goalie in there and Calgary wins easily. On the flip-side, Karri Ramo had a very shaky game, occasionally it seemed like he couldn't track the puck that well at all. His rebound control was also, at times, frightening.
Beyond that, the Flames had lapses that the Leafs capitalized on – the break-down on the first period power-play and the Brodie give-away in the third – while the Flames failed to do the same on the many, many chances the Leafs gave them. It should be noted that the Flames were missing three of their best two-way players in Backlund, Stempniak and Giordano, but they still seemed like the better team for much of the game. They just couldn't execute as well as the Leafs did, and it cost them.
FLAME OF THE GAME
Curtis Glencross had a very strong game. He played a ton, set up Stajan's goal and generally had a bee in his bonnet all night. Honourable mention to Kris Russell, who had another excellent game and moved the puck very well on the power-play.
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SUM IT UP
The Flames suffered their first regulation loss at the Saddledome this year. They'll get back in action on Friday night when they welcome another Original Six opponent to Calgary in the form of the Detroit Red Wings. Puck drop is at 7pm MT and you can catch the game via the usual Sportsnet TV and radio venues, as well as via all your FlamesNation friends (and enemies) on Twitter.