The Calgary Flames began the long road back to relevance tonight in Washington, D.C., with a game in the Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals. With a roster featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, the Capitals were heavy favourites going into their home-opener.
However, in a game they were expected to get trounced in, the Flames provided a preview of how they may tackle things this season.
In enemy territory, the Flames kept things rather simple in the first period. They moved their feet and beat the Capitals to a lot of loose pucks. They back-checked. They fore-checked. They even got into a fight.
The result after 20 minutes was a 3-0 lead. For the Flames.
David Jones opened the scoring by rifling a shot from the right wing over Braden Holtby’s shoulder. The play was created by Sean Monahan, who got his first career NHL assist on the goal, pressuring the puck-carrier and causing a turn-over.
Kris Russell and Alex Ovechkin got into a shoving and chopping match in the Flames zone later in the period. Both got coincidental minors. On the ensuing 4-on-4 play, the Flames quartet of Brodie, Giordano, Stempniak and Backlund cycled the puck around well, beating out the Capitals defenders on at least three occasions. On one such instance, Stempniak rimmed the puck around, headed to the net and potted home a rebound off of a Mark Giordano shot to give the Flames a 2-0 lead.
Later on, Brian McGrattan drew a penalty in the offensive zone. On the ensuing power-play, the Capitals collapsed down low. Brodie and Giordano passed it back and forth, allowing Jiri Hudler to position himself in a shooting lane. Combine that with a nice Mikael Backlund screen and, voila, against all odds the Flames lead 3-0. Braden Holtby’s game ended here.
The Capitals came out full of piss and vinegar in the second, moving their feet a lot better and executing plays. Outside of a five-minute span, though, the Flames kept beating them to loose pucks. The difference between the first and second was the Flames making a few mistakes here and there.
After a power-play, the Flames executed a sloppy line change, allowing young Tyler Carrick to step out of the penalty box and score on a breakaway to cut the lead to 3-1. However, that goal was quickly met by another Flames marker, with Ben Street sacrificing his body to chip the puck behind the Washington net, Michael Neuvirth mis-playing it and Brian McGrattan finding Lance Bouma for a one-timer goal to make it 4-1. (Bouma also had a fight in the first period.)
However, after that, the story of the game was the Capitals power-play and Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin added two second period goals – both of them one-timers, one of them on the power-play – to cut the Flames lead to 4-3. One of the goals was a weird tip off Jiri Hudler’s stick off of a face-off loss, the other was on a PP caused by a David Jones high-stick.
The Flames survived the second and generally carried the play throughout much of the third period. They had a couple penalty kills, though. While Matt Stajan got a weird penalty for knocking Karl Alzner’s stick out of Alzner’s one hand (he had one hand on the stick, which seems like it’s baiting that call), the Flames killed the penalty off rather well. However, T.J. Galiardi took a penalty for essentially shoving Neuvirth in the face in front of the net, and Nicklas Backstrom scored the second Capitals PP goal of the game to tie things at 4-4.
Overtime solved nothing, despite the Flames playing well and carrying 95% of the play. We went to the home-run derby, er, shootout, where Sven Baertschi and Jiri Hudler failed to score, while Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Capitals.
But hey, at least the Flames got a point.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
First and foremost, the Capitals are a more talented hockey team. Their power-play is insanely good and scored twice, and the Flames should actually get credit for killing off the single penalty they did, as that was the difference between zero points and a single point.
The Capitals also destroyed the Flames in the face-off circle. Calgary won 29 of 75 face-offs for 39% on the night. They were at 29% on the PP and 43% on the PK. That’s awful, especially that PP number, which is why the Flames only scored once on their five power-plays.
However, the Flames generally out-worked the Capitals. They were constantly fore-checking and back-checking, and their four goals were all caused – either entirely or in part via penalties – caused by them out-working the Capitals and causing the Caps to make mistakes. The fact that the Flames fourth line (Street-Bouma-McGrattan) produced offense and drew a penalty is a great sign, as well.
There are a few candidates, but I went with Lee Stempniak. Stempniak scored a goal, played over 20 minutes and led the Flames with 8 shots on goal. He was generally the best guy on the Flames’ top line tonight and was always noticeable on the ice.
Honourable mention to Mark Giordano (with two assists) and Lance Bouma (with a goal and a fight).
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
SUM IT UP
The Flames opened the season on the road against a team they usually are awful against. Instead of laying down and accepting defeat, they fought and scraped and generally out-worked their more talented opposition. Their reward for their efforts was a shoot-out loss, but also likely a feeling that Bob Hartley’s system might actually work.
There aren’t a lot of teams in the NHL that are as talented as the Capitals, after all.
The Flames (0-0-1) take their point and hop into a plane, as they fly to Columbus tonight. They visit the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at Nationwide Arena in the Jackets’ first game of the season. Game-time is 5pm MT and you can catch the game on the radio on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, on TV via Sportsnet West, and get all kinds of coverage online from this site right here.
One game down, 81 to go.