The preseason does not matter. Games are won and lost, but ultimately all that matters is that the games can be used to evaluate players, systems and tactics as National Hockey League clubs prepare for the regular season.
After a game like we saw at the Scotiabank Saddledome between the Calgary Flames and the visiting Winnipeg Jets, the home side is probably very happy that the preseason does not matter. The Flames didn’t get any bounces in the first period and then were out-played in the second period en route to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Jets on Sunday evening.
The opening frame was full of good and bad for the home side. On the good side, they had the puck a lot. On the other hand, they didn’t do very much with it. The Jets opened the scoring midway through the frame, as a defensive lapse by Dennis Wideman left Scott Kasmachuk wide open for a pass from Chase de Leo for a tap-in goal to make it 1-0. The Flames had a few chances later on as they seemed to get their legs going, but a Michael Frolik slashing call behind the play led to a Jets power-play…and a second Jets goal. It was an odd one, though: Brett Kulak went to clear the puck behind the net, but his slapper glanced off a Jets skate, careened out front, off another Jets skate and right to Ben Chiarot for another tap-in to make it 2-0. Chad Johnson had zero chance. Shots in the first were 5-3 Calgary.
The wheels fell off a bit for the locals in the middle period after a promising start. Their early power play – carried over from the very end of the first – generated a lot of nice chances and actually drew a second penalty that functionally extended the power-play to nearly four full minutes. Unfortunately, none of the chances beat Ondrej Pavelec. Soon after the Jets killed off the last penalty, Mark Stuart beat Johnson off the rush after a nice passing sequence from de Leo and Kosmachuk. The shot itself was a super-quick wrister from the high slot that just beat Johnson top-corner on his glove side. Johnson’s night ended after 3 goals against on 6 shots.
Jon Gillies’ night didn’t start off well, either, as he was beaten on his first shot after he replaced Johnson midway through the period to begin a Jets power play. On that play, the Flames defenders followed Alex Burmistrov around the zone with the puck, leaving Paul Postma wide-open in the high slot for a shot that just beat Gillies inside the post. That made it 4-0. The Jets kept pressing, but Gillies seemed to settle in. The period also featured a pair of fights: Garnet Hathaway scrapped with JC Lipon by the Flames bench after a few shoves and whacks escalated, and then Brandon Bollig fought Chris Thorburn in retaliation for Thorburn awkwardly colliding with T.J. Brodie in the Flames end on a previous shift. Shots were 13-12 Winnipeg in the second.
The final frame didn’t have a heck of a lot of action or flow to it. The Flames had a few chances but couldn’t bury anything, and the Jets played like a team that had a four-goal lead on the road and had no problem coasting their way to the finish.
The Flames had some challenges getting out of their own zone, especially in the first period. Their passes weren’t connecting and they couldn’t really generate any speed or momentum through the neutral zone. As a result, they dumped the puck in a lot more than they would probably like.
The power play was actually pretty decent in terms of generating some solid chances, but they just couldn’t bury anything. The penalty kill was okay, particularly with Backlund on the ice, but they had some struggles with consistency and getting the puck out. The groups they had out there were much more passive than was probably intended.
HOW’D THEY LOOK?
The established NHLers looked solid, with Backlund, Frolik and Bennett standing out (and Tkachuk had some nice shifts as well). Gillies was really solid after giving up that first goal. Mikhail Grigoriev made his preseason debut and looked quite poised and mature, and he even generated some scoring chances in the first frame.
Everybody else – particularly those who were pushing for jobs and/or their training camp survival – weren’t all that great and probably didn’t do too much to make management’s roster decisions tougher.
“I just feel better every day, feel more and more comfortable. The third period today, I wasn’t getting a lot of work, but that’s the best I’ve felt in a game situation all preseason. Kinda got the positioning back, got some of the details back and stuff like that, so that was a good feeling.” – Flames goalie Jon Gillies on how he feels physically after missing most of last season due to a hip injury
“When you lose the specialty teams game in this league, it’s hard to win. I thought we made another couple errors that cost us the other two goals, but it’s tough to win when you’re down 2-0 in the specialty teams.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on the loss
The Flames are off for a couple days before they complete their preseason schedule with a Wednesday home date with the Arizona Coyotes and a Thursday trip to Vancouver to face the Canucks.