The Calgary Flames played a hockey game this evening. It was their 45th hockey match of the 2013-14 NHL season. They were facing the Pittsburgh Penguins, a perennial playoff team and a club that has (recently) won a Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the world, plays for Pittsburgh. So does Evgeni Malkin, who is also quite good.
So you wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the prognosticators didn’t like Calgary’s chances in tonight’s game, nor would you be amazed to learn that there was a lot more Penguins fans in the stands than those rooting for the home team. Regardless, the game unfolded in some ways that were very predictable (the result), and also in ways that may have surprised onlookers.
The Penguins began the game appearing to be feeling the effects of their game the previous night in Edmonton, as they were a bit back on their heels. The Flames, obviously not wanting another drubbing like they faced against St. Louis, were very energetic early-on – including a quick fight between Brian McGrattan and Deryk Engelland that ended with a quick jab from McGrattan. However, the Penguins quickly figured out Bob Hartley’s line deployment plans – put the Backlund line against the Crosby line – and managed to hem the Colborne/Westgarth/McGrattan line deep in their zone. Some broken coverage, a delayed penalty against Shane O’Brien and some overall defensive-zone chaos and Chris Kunitz put a bad-angled shot past Reto Berra to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. The Penguns had the edge in shots (13-12), shot attempts (18-16) and scoring chances (5-3) in the first, though the Flames had the edge in face-offs by a 9-6 margin.
The second period seemed to be of two minds for the Flames. Without the puck, especially on the penalty kill, their defensive zone play was structured and outside of a few lapses, they managed to keep the Penguins to the outside and minimize chances. With the puck, especially on the power-play, the team seemed tentative and nervous. Over the entire game, the Flames generated just four shots on net in over eight minutes of power-play time. Oh, and one of those lapses that I mentioned, again involving the five-man unit of Colborne, McGrattan, Westgarth, O’Brien and Wideman, resulted in the second goal of the game. Matt Niskanen put a puck through a lot of traffic off of a Flames turnover, and it eked past Berra to make it 2-0 Penguins. Shots were 10-6 Calgary in the second. Shot attempts were 19-16 Pittsburgh. Face-offs and scoring chances were even.
The third period began with the Flames setting their franchise record for goal-scoring futility on home ice. The game got a bit of added emotion when Robert Bortuzzo crushed Mark Giordano with a high hit, giving the Flames a brief five-minute power-play. It was brief due to an ill-advised cross-checking penalty by Mike Cammalleri that negated quite a bit of that man-advantage. Talk on Twitter soon rumbled about the Flames potentially setting their franchise record for overall goal-scoring futility, when Mikael Backlund had to go and ruin it.
Midway through the period, Backlund drove into the Penguins zone on the left wing, beat Kris Letang on the outside and beat Marc-Andre Fleury on the far side to bring the Flames within one.
#Flames drought ends at 174:59.
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) January 12, 2014
— ESPN Hockey Night (@ESPNHockeyNight) January 12, 2014
Much rejoicing occurred, and the Flames looked at the scoreboard and played as if they could actually win the game – or at least tie it. However, the Penguins went into defense-first mode and kept the Flames to the outside for the remainder of the game, and the contest ended with a 2-1 final score in favour of the Penguins. The Penguins led in shots (7-6), attempts (19-16) and face-offs (9-7), while scoring chances were even at 4-4.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
Well, they scored a goal, but outside of the last 10 minutes or so, the Flames played as if the puck was a grenade. Much like Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football, the Flames are operating offensively as if they expect Lucy to snatch the football away from them at the last possible minute. With a bit more offensive success, their confidence will probably return. But like Peter Loubardias often says, confidence is probably the big difference between the Flames right now and the Flames a few weeks back.
But most of all, despite the Flames’ utilizing the Backlund/Cammalleri/Stempniak like to negate Sidney Crosby (who generated just two shots all game), Dan Bylsma managed to stack the deck against Calgary’s fourth line and generate a pair of goals from those favourable match-ups. Confidence issues aside, Bob Hartley got out-coached by Bylsma.
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
Mikael Backlund played 21:54 (second among forwards behind just Jiri Hudler), effectively negated the Crosby line all night long, put four shots on net and played a very solid game. Oh, and he scored a goal, too.
Honourable mention to Sean Monahan, who was quietly very effective (physically and otherwise) and went 9-for-11 in the face-off circle.
SUM IT UP
The Flames lost for the seventh time in their last eight outings and now boast a 15-24-6 record on the season. They sit 28th in the National Hockey League overall, 17 points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second Western wild-card playoff spot. They hit the road for another weird, short road trip – playing Carolina in Raleigh on Monday night and in Nashville on Tuesday night.