It’s the Flames. It’s the Penguns. Many of you, and maybe rightfully so, had written the Flames off before the game even started (not me though, I’m definitely an optimist…). After all, this is the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s Crosby. It’s
Malkin Zolnierczyk. It’s a team that has won 6 in a row and are 9-10 in their last 10 games.
The Flames, God love ’em, are not the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re Thomas the Tank Engine. They’re an ant colony. They’re hard working, blue collar heroes that you can’t help but love, sorta.
This game ended up not being as one sided as was predicted. The Flames tried. Tried HARD. It was a good game, a great effort, and a really entertaining game against the hottest team in the NHL. We got everything we wanted out of this game except a Flames W. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…
If there was perhaps a bad omen presented to us right at the outset of the game, it was early in the first period when Flames forward Curtis Glencross strode behind the net to apply a check to Penguins’ defenseman Matt Niskanen, toe picked, and twisted his knee falling to the ice. You knew it right then: this was not good. Glenny hobbled to the bench, and his 37 seconds of ice time was the last we’d see of him on this day. And it was HEARTBREAKING.
Also, a sign of things to come (ooh, foreshadowing)
A lot of scoring in this one, so I’m going to run through it pretty quick, because I’m lazy and don’t want to type a whole lot.
The Pens opened it up at 10:26 of the first after Sidney Crosby picked Ladi Smid’s pocket because he’s Sidney goddamn Crosby, and after a shot on net turned aside by Karri Ramo, winger and luckiest man in the world Pascal Dupuis had a 100% open cage to tap in the rebound. Only 1:19 later, Harry Zolnierczyk, who will not be mentioned again today so I don’t have to type out his name again, redirected a point shot from Robert Bortuzzo, who I’m convinced is actually named Roberto, but doesn’t want to be known as the "other Roberto", and in a million less times than it’ll take you to read this sentence, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh. The Flames didn’t have too terrible a period considering they were down a player and two goals. They drove play a little bit and outshot the Pens 10-5 in the period. 5 of those shots came from Mikael Backlund, who as you all know, we think is awesome.
Calgary made it interesting to start the second, after a gigantic Mark Giordano hit on Brandon Sutter, Paul Byron made everyone on the ice look like idiots as he danced around everyone in the Pens’ zone before absolutely murdering a puck that bounced off the post and Marc-Andre Fleury before gliding into the net. The Flames had life.
Then this happened:
Sidney Crosby is pretty good. He made TJ Brodie look like Cement Shoes Jimmy, who is a person I just made up right now, but had cement shoes on his feet all the time. Perfect shot by The Croz, and thus began the undeserved downward descent of Karri Ramo’s save percentage.
James Neal scored again four minutes later, but we were all still in awe about the Crosby goal that I don’t even really remember how it went in, except yes I do, TJ Brodie essentially tipped it in.
TJ Brodie did not have a good second period.
Michael "Matt" Cammalleri netted the Flames second goal and his first in 9 games late in the frame, and it looked, as they say in the print industry when they need to be subtly dissing a team, respectable.
The Pens took control in the second, outshooting the Flames 13-8.
Jiri Hudler woke us all up in the third, scoring just over a minute in, and we were all in Initialize Comeback Mode. They played a decent period, but then, and this just really sucks, a chance collision in the Flames end led to Kris Russell leaving the game with an apparent leg injury. I’d say he hyperextended it, and I’m a doctor in my head so that’s that.
4-3 was as close as the Flames would get, as the game ended 4-3. Joe Colborne looked like he might have made it close a couple of times, including just a beauty drive across the net and a wraparound that clanged off the post. Nice to see from Colborne, who was awful to that point, and if he shows more of that effort and skill going forward, it’ll actually be justified when he plays on the power play or at all. Nice to see there’s something in his tank.
But that was that. Really entertaining, great pushback by the Flames, and they fell just short. The lesson is, never try.
Why The Flames Lost
Well, losing Glencross early on didn’t help. It meant double shifting wingers, including Brian McGrattan, which you never want. But despite this, and losing Russell late, it didn’t really seem like fatigue or mixed up lines really kept the Flames out of this one. The effort was there the whole game.
Speaking of injuries, it’s pretty obvious to everyone except maybe coaching and management that Sean Monahan is still hurt. He was not very good again today, and he only played 9 minutes, had 0 shot attempts, while there were 9 against. Sit him against St. Louis, let him heal, and send him out to join Team Canada. It’s the best thing for him right now and we all know it.
Quite frankly, the Penguins are just really good, and Fleury was solid in goal.
Kid’s got some game, don’t he?
Let’s blame the afternoon game thing too, because afternoon games suck.
This one was a tough one to choose, because anyone who really stood out at any given time also showed some pretty bad lapses over the course of this one too. I’m choosing three guys, just to make a point.
I’m giving it to Paul Byron, Mikael Backlund, and Mike Cammalleri. And here’s why:
Paul Byron’s goal was just straight up dominant. He made a very good Penguins team look like rank amateurs. As FlamesNation Citizen Jeremy Wilhelm noted, it was like Paul Byron’s version of "THE SHIFT", and yeah, it kinda was.
Backlund and Cammalleri play so well together, and they were in the faces of Pens’ defenders all game. They were downright gritty. They pursued the puck like dogs, drove the net, CRASHED the net at times, and were a lot to contain.
So you tell me, Brian Burke, why you’re so insistent on your Size Matters Mantra, because it seems to me like you can be a smaller skilled guy and do exactly all the things you’re looking for in a hockey team.
Again, and I’ve gone on the record about this a lot of times, I love big players too, but I love skilled big players, but until you go on record as saying THAT’S what you’re looking for, don’t take opportunities away from guys like these because they’re not big enough. Skill should always trup size, especially if the smaller guys are playing bigger than they are.
In the end
Again, great game. Tough loss, tough to lose a couple of important players, but if you weren’t entertained by this game, you’re either dead or you just don’t matter.
This damn road trip is finally over. The early starts, the afternoon games, NEVER THINK ABOUT THEM AGAIN until early February when it starts all over again.
Rebuilds are tough. They’re long (hopefully not TOO long), arduous, and a lot of times watching the games is just tough sledding. It’s nice to have these games interspersed in the middle of them, because today was damn good hockey, and if you, like I was, were getting a bit disenchanted watching this team play this season, this should reinvigorate you a little bit. Sucs to lose the game, but that was a lot of fun.
So that’s the other lesson to take away from this game: Hockey is fun.
The other one, of course, is never try.