(David Banks / USA Today Sports)
The Calgary Flames played their best hockey of the season over the last few games, beginning with a close victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Returning to the scene of them finding their game eight days ago, the Flames played a couple fabulous periods of hockey tonight.
Unfortunately, their effort was spoiled by inopportune (and borderline) penalty calls and an unraveling of their game in the third period. They lost 5-1 to Chicago, but the score in no way reflects the Flames’ effort.
The Flames might’ve had their best first period of the season tonight. They were all over a rather flat Chicago club. They generated a bunch of chances. They generated many turnovers. The power play looked decent in two opportunities but couldn’t score. Unfortunately, late in the period, after a borderline-dominant shift from the Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik line, Patrick Kane beat Brian Elliott with a shot from the high slot to make it 1-0. It was a shot just inside the far post that Elliott likely wants back. Thus, the Flames went into the break down a goal despite out-shooting Chicago 13-6.
The visitors continued their string of nice play in the second period. They continued to press and make some nice plays. Their penalty kill generated the tying goal from a familiar source: after a point shot shattered a defender’s stick, Backlund and Frolik went in on a 2-on-1. Backlund made a picturesque pass and Frolik tapped it past Corey Crawford for the short-handed goal to tie it at 1-1. The Flames had a few more chances as the period progressed, but couldn’t bury any of them. Shots were 13-9.
The game got away from the Flames in the third, and not for a lack of trying. A questionable penalty call on Sam Bennett gave the Blackhawks their fourth power play, and they finally solved Elliott with a nice redirection in the slot from Artem Anisimov to make it 2-1. From there, the Flames pressured but couldn’t do much of anything with their zone time. The Blackhawks extended their lead awhile later, as Deryk Engelland got caught pinching and left Tyler Motte one-on-one with T.J. Brodie. Motte beat Brodie on the outside and tucked the puck past Elliott with a really nice individual effort – made possible by Engelland getting caught – to make it 3-1.
An empty net goal by Artemi Panarin made it 4-1, and Niklas Hjalmarsson made it 5-1 on a defensive zone turnover off a bad clear attempt by Dennis Wideman (and was allowed to take a slapper on Elliott uncontested by any Flames player). Shots were 8-7 Calgary.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
Two big reasons: they couldn’t bury any of the chances they generated in the first two periods, and they couldn’t reel things in during the third period when things didn’t go either way. A penalty call went against them, they gave up a power play goal, and then they kept making small mistakes that resulted in three subsequent goals against.
And to spoil things for you? The Flames gave tons of offensive zone starts to their top six: they didn’t do much with it. They buried their bottom six, with each line getting zero offensive zone starts. None. They generated chances and moved the puck up the ice. Once again, the bottom six carried the mail.
THE TURNING POINT
It’s super-obvious, but Bennett’s penalty call was really borderline…and it resulted in yet another power play goal allowed off a deflection in the slot. The pressure on the Flames penalty kill is nice to see after the passivity of Jacques Cloutier’s kill, but that pressure really opens up a lane for tip-ins from the slot that teams have repeatedly taken advantage of.
Backlund was a beast, as is usual. Let’s give it to him. Honourable mention to Frolik, who had the flu and also played well and scored a goal.
(Percentages are even strength. Game score is overall.)
THIS AND THAT
Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik are considered 3rd line players. If so they gotta be two of the best in the NHL playing that role
— Roger Millions (@RogMillions) November 2, 2016
Matthew Tkachuk collided awkwardly with a Hawks player late in the third and missed a couple shifts as he went to the Flames room to be evaluated. Given the score, he didn’t return, but it’s not clear if it’s anything significant.
The crowd, crew and basically everybody involved in the game in Chicago were distracted, as Game 6 of the World Series was occurring concurrent with this game. The Cubs won, forcing a seventh game tomorrow at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
“The most frustrating thing for me is we made the exact same mistake on the penalty kill that we did the night before, which we addressed this morning. That’s the most frustrating.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on the go-ahead goal by Chicago on the power play that swung the game.
The Flames hop on a jet plane and head off to San Jose, where they’ll continue their road trip on Thursday evening when they face the Sharks.