January 06 2017 11:31PM
(Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA Today Sports)
A National Hockey League season is long. The games are full of small places and wonky bounces. Sometimes a team plays really well but doesn't get rewarded, often due to a really good goaltending performance. Yes, folks, sometimes you lose.
The Calgary Flames lost 4-2 tonight to the Vancouver Canucks. Don't let the score fool you: they were by far the better team. But Ryan Miller was superb and that, along with a pair of disallowed shorthanded goals and some bad breaks, was the difference.
Things started off great for the Flames. In familiar fashion, the vaunted 3M Line opened the scoring and were able to do so on their first shift. After a Matthew Tkachuk dump-in from the neutral zone, the Flames out-hustled the Canucks and Mikael Backlund fed Michael Frolik in the slot for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead.
The Flames almost doubled their lead with a shorthanded rush that Lance Bouma scored on, but it was waved off because Matt Stajan made contact with Miller in the crease. Glen Gulutzan used his coach's challenge, but it was not successful.
Vancouver tied the game before the end of the period, as Mark Giordano's transition pass was cut off by the Canucks – Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Chiasson were up by the blueline anticipating a head-manning pass – and Michael Chaput scored to make it 1-1. And to make matters worse, a bad pinch by Deryk Engelland led to a two-on-two rush where Loui Eriksson's attempted pass to the slot bounced off Tyler Wotherspoon's backside and beat Brian Elliott inside the far post to make it 2-1. Shots were 11-6 Flames in the opening period.
The Flames kept pushing in the second, out-shooting Vancouver 12-4. But they couldn't score. They had another shorthanded goal called back as it was ruled that Miller was knocked into the net.
About a minute later, Markus Granlund scored on the power play – seemingly both Dennis Wideman and Lance Bouma neglected to cover him in the slot – to make it 3-1.
Granlund added his second of the game early in the third to make it 4-1 off a nice tip from the high slot that just beat Elliott – who was partially screened by both Dougie Hamilton and Giordano. Giordano had a particularly great woe is me expression after the goal.
Frolik scored on a late power play to make it 4-2, but that was as close as the Flames got. Shots were 23-3 in the third. Yes. The Flames generated 23 shots in the third period and only scored once.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
Seriously. He was good. The Flames had many chances. They had 46 shots on goal, tops for the season. They had several power plays. Gaudreau looked dangerous. They had multiple shorthanded chances. Things just didn't go their way tonight. Close chances went into the Flames net and stayed out of the Canucks net. The primary reason for that was Miller.
If the Flames play like this, they win 99% of the time.
THE TURNING POINT
The second Granlund goal, the one that made it a 4-1 game, was the back-breaker for the visitors.
We've done this a few times this year: joint Red Warrior to the 3M Line (Backlund, Tkachuk, Frolik). They generated the team's only even strength goal and were pressing for much of the night.
Granted, aside from some wonky bounces – a puck off Wotherspoon's backside, and a couple lapses in coverage – the Flames were really great tonight.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Data via Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
flames — canucks pic.twitter.com/YW5EAbBwyC— datarink (@datarink) January 7, 2017
Backlund's point streak up to 6 games. Tkachuk pushes his to 8 games on Frolik's goal. #Flames— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) January 7, 2017
These same two teams are going to hop on a plane, fly to Calgary and then do it all again tomorrow night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The puck drops at 8 p.m. MT and it's the late game on Hockey Night in Canada.
GETAWAY WITH AMA TRAVEL
Craving sun, sand, and surf?
Book your beach vacation with AMA Travel this winter before space runs out! All-inclusive packages from under $1,000