On Saturday night, the Calgary Flames will play one of the most important games of their season when they face the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. On Friday night, they first had to play the New Jersey Devils – who faced Edmonton on Thursday night. On a Friday the 13th that featured a full moon, the Flames were spookily bad for the first 20 minutes of the game and not particularly strong through the duration of it. They dropped a winnable game to one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League, the Devils, by a 2-1 score.
For a team needing all the points it can muster in an incredibly tight Western Conference playoff race, this was a nightmare scenario.
In the preview for tonight’s game, I expressed some concerns that the local sports team would look past tonight’s game with the Devils and suffer the consequences. They sure looked like they weren’t mentally engaged in this game early-on, as they failed to execute simple passing plays with regularity in the first. This was particularly evident on two early power plays, which combined saw the Flames hit the net twice.
The Devils opened the scoring off the rush shortly after the first failed Flames PP; Kyle Palmieri led the way on an odd-man rush. Dougie Hamilton played the pass, so Palmieri shot and beat Chad Johnson short-side to make it 1-0. Shortly after the second failed Flames power play, which saw Michael Frolik take a penalty at the tail end, the Devils doubled their lead. The Flames had some major lapses in coverage, leaving Calgary native Taylor Hall all by his lonesome by the face-off circle. He calmly walked in and beat Johnson top corner to make it 2-0. Shots were 14-7 in the first in favour of the Devils, the team that played the previous night.
The Flames weren’t great in the second, but they were a lot better than in the first. They still couldn’t quite take hold of the game but they were better at handling the puck and making decent decisions with it. They finally broke through with six minutes remaining in the second. After a few shifts of decent pressure, they managed to corral the puck in the offensive zone after their initial rush into the zone was broken up by New Jersey. Dougie Hamilton made a simple slap shot from the half-boards that handcuffed Keith Kincaid, and Sean Monahan strolled past the defenders and tucked the loose puck into the open net to make it 2-1. Shots were 17-12 Flames in the second.
The Devils were in “defend the lead” mode in the final frame of regulation, and the Flames honestly didn’t do too much to make their lives that difficult. They pulled Johnson late for the extra attacker, but just couldn’t generate enough – even 6 on 5 – to make the effort worthwhile. Shots were 10-8 Devils in the third.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
To be blunt? They were bad in the first period. They came out flat in the opening period, dug themselves a hole, and they weren’t good enough to dig themselves out of it. The Devils were better at even strength, were better on the power play than Calgary’s penalty kill, and their penalty kill was effective enough to shut down Calgary’s power play.
Whether it was the Flames overlooking their opposition or them playing down to their opposition, the Flames weren’t crisp, they weren’t energetic, and they really seemed like a team that was out of sync.
THE TURNING POINT
The second goal was a back-breaker. Coming on the heels of a Flames power play that didn’t really amount to very much, the coverage never quite seemed set up and Hall was left unaccosted as he strolled towards the net and calmly beat Johnson to make the game 2-0. The Flames clawed back from there, but never quite got all the way back.
Johnson was busy tonight and aside from perhaps wanting that first goal back, he was really sharp. He ended up making 34 saves overall and was seemingly the most dialed-in Flame on the night.
Heck, he might’ve been the only one.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Stats via Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
A dramatic reenactment of fan reaction to the first half of this game:
“It was a pitiful start for us. I thought they came out really strong. They executed. We made two mistakes. We made a mistake on the penalty kill and we made a mistake on a pinch on the first goal. Other than that, we were out-battled the whole time. We lose battle after battle. When you’re not ready to play, that’s what happens.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on his team’s performance.
“I think we just came out flat in the first period. They played their game to a T: they got pucks deep, forechecked hard, used their speed and we didn’t match it in the first. I think as the game went on we started to a little bit, but still not enough.” – Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland on his club’s start.
The Flames (23-20-2) immediately pack up their gear and head up Highway 2. They’ll be meeting the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow night at Rogers Place in the late game on Hockey Night In Canada.