(Perry Nelson / USA Today Sports)
The Calgary Flames went into Edmonton this evening hoping to spoil the Oilers’ big party on the first regular season National Hockey League contest at the shiny new Rogers Place. However, the visitors did more harm than good to their own hopes and via some wonky defense, shaky goaltending and general sloppiness dropped a disappointing 7-4 decision to their most hated rivals.
Here’s how it happened.
The Flames just weren’t very good in the first. At all. They had bad reads. Bad passes. Bad defensive zone play. And a lot of unforced turnovers. The Oilers opened the scoring 70 seconds in, as Nicklas Grossmann’s ugly outlet pass was intercepted by Leon Draisaitl and his shot was tipped by Patrick Maroon (on the very first shot against new Flames goalie Brian Elliott). The Flames answered back 36 seconds later, as Alex Chiasson beat Cam Talbot via the five-hole on a nice group effort by the fourth line.
However, Grossmann soon struck again. After a nice penalty kill (with Matthew Tkachuk in the box), Grossmann grabbed the puck and streaked up the ice like T.J. Brodie. Unfortunately, unlike Brodie he got caught in the offensive zone and Tyler Pitlick came back and beat Elliott on a 2-on-1 (on the second shot on Elliott of the game). The Flames just couldn’t get anything going for the rest of the period in terms of pressure or scoring chances, and Zach Kassian was sprung on a breakaway by Oscar Klefbom on an awful Flames line change and he beat Elliott to make it 3-1. Shots were 10-9 Edmonton in the first, but most of the Flames shots weren’t all that dangerous.
The Flames got out of the gates well in the second, as an early power play gave them some momentum. They didn’t score, but there was a ton of puck movement and some nice long looks. Heck, they kept the puck in the Oilers zone for the first 75 seconds of the advantage. That momentum carried over to their penalty kill, as well. After clearing multiple Oilers attempts at gaining the zone, Troy Brouwer stole the puck and went in alone, beating Cam Talbot top-shelf to make it 3-2. The Flames then tied it up, again short-handed, as Mikael Backlund went in and had his initial shot stopped by Talbot…only to have Michael Frolik tap in the loose rebound. That made it 3-3, and life was good. For a little bit.
But after an errant pass went for an icing, an errant Andrej Sekera point shot bounced right to Connor McDavid for the easy far post tap-in to make it 4-3. The Flames unraveled a bit after that in their own end, and McDavid got hooked after beating out Wideman for a puck. That gave him a penalty shot, and he beat Elliott to make it 5-3 to end the second. Shots were 20-9 for Calgary in the second.
The third period was tight, as you could tell Edmonton just wanted to cling to their lead. The Flames gave the Oilers one power play too many, though, and an errant Deryk Engelland clearing attempt went right to Jesse Puljujarvi and he beat Elliott to make it 6-3. A nice one-timer power play goal by Dennis Wideman make it 6-4, but Jordan Eberle scored on the empty net to finish the Flames off. Shots were 12-9 for the Flames and they had the most dangerous chances, but Edmonton was sharp enough to limit the danger.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
First and foremost, their defensive zone play was not crisp and their pairings seemed to lack chemistry. The first goal was due to a Grossmann error. The second goal was due to Grossmann getting caught up ice. The third goal was due to everyone going for a line change at once. The fourth goal was due to a bounce (and Sean Monahan missing his check). The fifth goal was due to Wideman getting beat. The sixth goal was due to an Engelland error. That’s a lot of lapses that piled up in a big, big way.
Second, Elliott wasn’t all that sharp. He seemed to not know where rebounds were going for the first half of the game, and often looked around with curiosity after blocking pucks with his upper body. He probably wanted a couple goals back tonight.
The top line was a non-factor. Granted, some of that was Edmonton getting at the puck carrier right at the blueline, but Gaudreau in particular seemed off his game all night.
If you want a silver lining? The Flames out-shot the Oilers by a hefty margin tonight, and their penalty killing was generally pretty damn sharp. Calgary’s special teams generated three goals (2 short-handed and 1 on the power play) to Edmonton’s single power play goal. Most of the time, that’s enough to win.
THE TURNING POINT
The McDavid goal that bounced to him off the end-boards completely tilted the game to Edmonton. It was followed soon after by his penalty shot goal and the Flames weren’t really in it after that point.
Honestly? I thought Matt Stajan was probably Calgary’s most consistent player. He was good with the puck, drove play north despite some wonky offensive zone start figures, and kept himself out of the box.
Sam Bennett also drove play fairly well and had a ton of nice carry-ins as the game progressed. He seemed to be playing with a lot of confidence, and he made a great individual play to beat an Oilers defender to the puck and protect it, leading to the power-play goal by Wideman. He gets an honourable mention, as does T.J. Brodie for his strong possession stats (despite playing with Engelland most of the evening).
(Percentage stats are all even-strength, game-score is overall.)
THIS AND THAT
Thought my phone was going to start on fire when I tweeted the #Flames D Pairings the other day. Looks like you all were right.
— Kristen Odland (@Kristen_Odland) October 13, 2016
Sportsnet commentator Craig Simpson kept referring to the Oilers goaltender as “Tall-butt.”
Grossmann and Bouma were the only Flames that didn’t register shots on goal.
The Flames (0-1-0) head back home, where they’ll host the Oilers in their own home opener on Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.