The good news? The pre-season is over! The bad news? The Flames ended it with an uneven 3-2 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Flames finish the pre-season with a 4-4-0 record, for whatever that’s worth. (Spoiler: very little.)
Nobody scored in the opening period, but it was about as good as you’d hope to get for a pre-season performance for the Flames. They skated hard. They made hits (especially Brandon Bollig). They created turnovers. They just could not bury a bloody scoring chance. (They out-chanced the Jets by my count roughly 6-1.) They even had a stretch where they managed to roll three of their four lines without letting the Jets get the puck over their blueline. Shots were 15-5 in the first.
Compared to their first period, the second period unfolded like the Flames decided to leave something in the chamber for Wednesday’s season-opener. Well, you’d hope so, because it was almost the exact opposite of their first period. They didn’t get an official shot on goal until about 10 minutes into the period. And by that point, the Jets were up 2-0. First, a Toby Enstrom shot made it through some traffic in front of Ramo and was tipped very nicely by Blake Wheeler to make it 1-0. A few minutes later, Ben Chiarot saw the Jet out front of Ramo tied up by Brett Kulak and decided to shoot the puck. The shot found a hole between the post, the crossbar and Ramo’s shoulder – the Flames netminder probably could’ve hugged the post more – to make it 2-0 for the visitors. The Flames showed signs of life late, including a few nice scoring opportunities, but went to the dressing room staring at a goose-egg on the scoreboard. Shots were 9-5 Winnipeg in the middle period.
After disappearing for stretches in the second, the Flames were much better in the third – as you’d hope. They were without Jiri Hudler, however, as he left the game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body malady. That led to the Flames shuffling up their lines a bit. Lance Bouma scored early in the period to make it close, but the Flames couldn’t bury their chances – just like in the first period. Drew Stafford scored on an empty net late and despite David Jones’ late goal, it was too little, too late.
But hey, it’s only the pre-season!
Sam Bennett was the second line center. He was 7-for-12 overall in face-offs, with strong first (3-for-3) and third period (3-for-4) performances sandwiching a 1-for-5 second period. He was skating well and creating chances, so he was pretty solid.
Generally-speaking, Hartley rolled four lines and ignored deployments. But he leaned on Backlund and Stajan a bit more in the defensive zone and Monahan and Bennett a bit more in the offensive end, for whatever it’s worth in a pre-season context.
Brett Kulak looked like an NHL player. He was out-muscled along the boards a bit here and there, but he was positionally sound and played a good defensive game with simple plays. He played 16:37, almost exclusively with Deryk Engelland. (Bob Hartley praised his performance after the game, characterizing him as looking like a “playoff defenseman” in a game that was a big test for him.)
Mikael Backlund had 3 shots and was 10-for-14 at the face-off dot. In a game where it seemed like many veterans were on auto-pilot, Backlund was pretty good.
And hey, Brandon Bollig was throwing his body around like somebody told him he was finally allowed to. He was credited with 3 hits (and 3 shots), and was well-deserving of an honourable mention serving on the fourth line with Matt Stajan and David Jones.
The pre-season is (mercifully) OVER. The Flames will have until 3pm MT on Tuesday to get down to their opening night roster of 23 active players. So expect some moves – even if they’re just a demotion (or two) to the AHL and declaring some players non-roster/injured.
But beware: if there’s gonna be big moves and chaos of any kind, it’ll happen on Monday during the big waiver shuffle that happens league-wide.
They play Vancouver on Wednesday night at the Saddledome in a game that actually matters in the standings.