November has been a roller coaster ride for Flames fans. After an abysmal opening month, the last four weeks have been a wild up-and-down ride featuring some of the team’s best and worst performances this season.
After dominating the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice, the Flames took to the road and were promptly outclassed by the Ducks in California, a fitting example of the November pattern. And while playing well at least occasionally can be considered an improvement, taking a step forward and then step back is a bad way to get yourself back into the playoff picture.
Tonight the Flames tried to get back on track – hopefully permanently – against the Coyotes in Arizona. Did they succeed?
It was an even period according to the score, but the balance of play favoured the Flames. The two teams were both tentative to start the game, but Calgary grew stronger as the period went on, finishing with a 12-8 edge in shots and a 14-7 shot attempt differential at even strength.
The Coyotes only had a handful of chances, most of them on a PP granted due to Micheal Ferland wiping Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the offensive zone. That dubious charging call gave Arizona their best looks at the Flames net, but otherwise they were mostly on their heels.
The Flames had two powerplays of their own, neither of which managed to cash in. The most notable thing about the extra man for the visitors was a new look first PP unit, featuring the top line + Joe Colborne and Dennis Wideman on the point. The four man forward man unit didn’t look much more effective than any of the other of the Flames 29th ranked PP options so far this year though.
Nevertheless, Calgary outplayed and outchanced Arizona through 20 minutes. It was a good start after coming off an embarrassing loss.
That momentum didn’t quite carry over into the second period, unfortunately. On the very first shift a TJ Brodie point shot was blocked, resulting in a Coyotes rush up the ice. Arizona didn’t cash in right away, but the ensuing scramble resulted in a puck glancing in off Martin Hanzal’s skate, giving the Coyotes a 1-0 lead.
The Coyotes pressed for another shift or two, but things settled into a an even balance until about the middle portion of the frame. After a dominant shift from the Monahan line, Calgary went back on the PP when TJ Brodie drew a tripping penalty. The Flames PP featured a Gaudreau-Monahan-Bennett trio this time around, but nevertheless failed to score despite some decent chances.
Calgary’s even strength dominance was finally rewarded with about five minutess left in the period. The Coyotes fourth penalty of the game lead to Mark Giordano hammering home a stray puck in the crease during the Flames PP, knotting the score at 1-1.
And that’s how the period would end. Calgary was still well out in front in terms of shots (21-12) and corsi (32-20).
Arizona pressed in the first few shifts of the third, resulting in a defensive zone hooking call against Kris Russell. The Flames PK gave up more than a few good chances to the Coyotes, but a goal mouth scramble near the end of the man advantage actually lead to a cross checking penalty to Ekman-Larrsson, putting the Flames on the man advantage instead. Calgary’s PP did what it has done for most of the 2015-16 season and struggled to get set-up or generate shots, but nevertheless culminated with the Coyotes taking another penalty, this time a high sticking call on Sam Bennett.
Calgary’s second chance at 5on4 in the period went much better in terms of getting pressure and shots, but the Flames didn’t manage to take the lead. Arizona responded by taking the play to Calgary’s Stajan unit immediately after the expiration of the penalty, pinning the Flames trio in their own end and forcing an icing. Bob Hartley called a time out to give his players a rest in response. Afterwards the game settled back into a more an even back-and-forth between the two clubs.
With about three minutes left in the period, Ekman-Larrson hit Giordano from behind in the Flames zone, prompting TJ Brodie to crosscheck the Coyotes defender in retaliation. Both guys got two minutes, but neither team managed to cash in at 4on4. Regulation time finished at 1-1 with the Flames leading the shot clock 24-17.
The OT featured a handful of chances for the Flames, but for the first time this season extra time wasn’t going to have a happy ending for the Flames. With less than a minute left in the OT period, the combination of Giordano, Brodie and Monahan got caught out during a long shift. Brad Richardson found Ekman-Larsson alone in the slot and the NHL’s defensive goal leader from last season made no mistake.
Why the Flames Lost
Because they just couldn’t finish. Calgary outplayed the Coyotes at even strength and had six PP’s to boot, but could only put one puck behind Mike Smith. It’s hard to win with only one marker on the board.
This is a tough one since no one player stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Flames tonight. Let’s go with Dougie Hamilton, who looked much more comfortable tonight. The former Bruin was making plays at both ends of the ice and finally resembled the player the Flames org were no doubt hoping they were acquiring when they traded for him in the summer.
Sum it Up
It was a much better effort after being run over by the Ducks, but moral victories aren’t worth much to the team at this point. With the OTL, Calgary remains second last in the Western Conference (and the league), just one point ahead of the Oilers. The playoffs are rapidly slipping out of reach.
Things don’t get any easier. The road trip continues tomorrow night in San Jose versus the Sharks.