The Calgary Flames hosted the Nashville Predators at the Saddledome tonight in what was a big game for the playoff aspirations of both clubs. The Predators played a measured, composed, playoff-like game for the majority of the contest. The Flames? Not so much.
The home side was equal parts shaky, sloppy and out of sync en route to a 4-3 loss to their Western Conference rivals. The score is a bit flattering, as all three Calgary goals came at the tail-end of this contest.
The opening frame began sleepily, with both teams not playing a particularly high-octane style of hockey. (They combined for 8 shots in the first 11 minutes.) Nashville opened the scoring about five minutes in during some four-on-four play. The Flames got crossed up in their coverage and a rebound went right to James Neal, who beat Chad Johnson between the legs from the slot to make it 1-0. The Flames had a lengthy stretch of power play time, but couldn’t get anything past Juuse Saros. Shots were 14-9 for the home side in the first.
The second period was a bit disjointed, with Nashville looking for openings and the Flames desperately trying not to give them too much (while trying to generate offense themselves). After an offensive zone face-off win turned into a Dennis Wideman point shot that missed the net by a considerable margin, the Predators took the puck the other way. Harry Zolnierczyk drew the defensemen over to him on his zone entry, then tossed the puck to the center lane for a pinching Ryan Ellis on a partial breakaway. Ellis’ shot hit Johnson’s glove and trickled into the net to make it 2-0.
The Flames gave the Predators three power plays in the second. They were fairly capable at avoiding good chances on their first two kills. On the third kill, Ellis was given a ton of time and space after a zone entry so he calmly skated towards the high slot and beat Johnson with a point shot to make it 3-0. Victor Arvidsson had a nice screen on Johnson and the Flames goalie got a piece of it, but it trickled through him. Shots were 7-5 Nashville in the second period.
If the Predators were going to be felled by score effects in the third period, they didn’t show it until the last half of the period. They kept carrying the play for the most part, though it was fairly obvious that they were saving some energy for their game on Friday in Edmonton. Filip Forsberg made it 4-0 on a breakaway caused by unique circumstances; Johnny Gaudreau had taken a delayed penalty and Dougie Hamilton cheated to the left side of the ice to support Mark GIordano on a neutral zone puck battle – leaving Forsberg completely open for the eventual game winner.
The Flames finally broke Saros’ shutout attempt with just under four minutes remaining, as Kris Versteeg scored on a late power play to make it 4-1. They scored again on the very next shift, as Michael Frolik scored with a wrister from the point with Matthew Tkachuk screening the goalie to make it 4-2 – the goal was originally waved off for goalie interference, but replays revealed that Tkachuk didn’t make contact with Saros. After an extremely long 6-on-5 shift in the Predators zone, Sean Monahan scored at the side of the net (shoveling in a rebound) to make it 4-3. The Flames pressed late, but just didn’t have enough time to generate anything else. Shots were 16-5 Flames in the final period.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
They weren’t particularly good at any aspect of their game.
At even strength they didn’t generate a heck of a lot and struggled to gain the Predators zone and establish pressure. Their power play had a few good looks in the first, but the Predators quickly figured out how to disrupt their zone entries and they couldn’t get much going after that. Their penalty kill was decent, but gave Ellis way too much room to operate on Nashville’s third goal.
They seemed to get things together late, but it’s hard to give them credit for five minutes of desperation when they didn’t have any to speak of until Nashville stopped caring about this game.
THE TURNING POINT
The Flames played okay in the second period and almost managed to get to the locker room down a pair. Then they took a defensive zone penalty, giving the Predators a late period advantage, and Nashville made them pay for it. It made it 3-0 and despite their late push, the Flames never really seemed in the game after that point.
He struggled mightily through the first two periods, but this was arguably one of Monahan’s best games of the season. He had a ton of shots and seemed to be a man possessed in the final 10 minutes of this game. Whole lot of good it did in the grand scheme of things, but you’d hope he can build off of this game.
All-in-all, though, it’s hard to say anybody was especially good in a game where the team only showed up for the final five minutes.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Stats via Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
The Gaudreau power play unit generated a few shots but nothing crazy-dangerous on the first power play. As they were changing units, Dougie Hamilton was tripped and the Flames had a 49 second five-on-three. The coaching staff put the unit that just failed to score back out and parked the unit that had (a) drawn the penalty and (b) scored twice in their last game. It was a strange decision by the coaching staff in a game defined by strange decisions by the Flames players.
In Sam Bennett’s absence (he was a healthy scratch), Gaudreau began the game on a line with Matt Stajan and Alex Chiasson. That combination lasted precisely one shift and then was abandoned.
“We were kind of waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen. They were trying to make it happen.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on the difference between his team’s start and Nashville’s start.
“It’s hard to explain. You’d think we weren’t in a playoff race, and that’s how we’re playing. We’ve got to realize where we’re at.” – Gulutzan on his team’s lack of consistency.
“It wasn’t good. We had a lot of power plays, we had a five-on-three, and those kind of things cost you when you don’t get momentum from it. So our power play has to be better there and obviously the simple little mistakes, we need to fix those to win games like that” – Monahan on his team’s first 55 minutes.
The Flames (24-21-3) are back at practice tomorrow, then are back in game action on Saturday night for a gigantic Hockey Night in Canada showdown with the Edmonton Oilers.