This was not a normal game.
Ten days earlier, the Flames soundly defeated the Kings 5-2, and it wasn’t really that much of a contest. Matthew Tkachuk got his elbow up in Drew Doughty’s face, though. Doughty whined, Tkachuk got suspended, the Flames lost two games, Tkachuk was very much back in action before he played the Kings again, and then we had last night’s game.
It was a game more filled with narratives than actual hockey. The Flames had the chance to clinch against a team that had just lost the night before, one futilely scrabbling for a playoff spot they’re not going to get (they can achieve a maximum of 91 points; the Blues and Flames have 90 points, and the Predators have 89, so it’s kinda over), and instead they got sucked into a penalty-fest with a fight here and there.
They let a tired team dictate the pace for them. If any one moment summed up the game as a whole, it was probably Jake Muzzin suckering Tkachuk into a penalty 25 seconds in. The stage was set for a fight, and at least one of the parties was ready.
Then again, Tkachuk later going for a massive hit on Doughty ultimately suckered Andy Andreoff into a game misconduct. Both penalties were born of Tkachuk clearly geared up for this game and ready to back his words and his play up. It’s probably a victory that one of those incidents worked out in the Flames’ favour (now, if they hadn’t gone 0-for-6 on the powerplay and spent so much time just trying to reenter the zone…).
You can call Doughty a bitch as much as you want, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong, but fact is he’s under no obligation to fight, just as Tkachuk was under no obligation to, either. Probably the worst part of it: Tkachuk is actually a good player, and having him more focused on this nonsense actually hurts the Flames more than if it had been something like Alex Chiasson having a quick rematch against the Flyers.
Still: the game-within-a-game seemed to be all the Flames were particularly interested in. Dougie Hamilton scored early, and that was all anyone had to look forward to for, like, three hours, as the constant fighting and penalties meant it took this one so much longer to be in the books. After that, it was just guys eyeing each other, non-stop scrums, and weak little penalties on both sides as nobody seemed particularly interested in actually playing hockey.
Actually playing hockey would have won the Flames this one. I guess fighting is fun and all, but what’s a better revenge than clinching over those guys who were pissing you off and putting them that much closer to the brink of elimination?
Don’t get me wrong: demanding blood in the start was fun. We’re human. We’re tribal. Someone on Los Angeles challenged someone on Calgary’s honour and we didn’t take too kindly for that. Doughty was booed literally every time he touched the puck, even if it was for just a fraction of a second. When Johnny Gaudreau hit him, people cheered. When Tkachuk went for a big hit on him, people were ecstatic. And that stuff is fun. But I would argue winning a game, clinching a playoff spot, getting that much closer to a potential home ice advantage would be much more fun. The penalties and fighting slowed the game down, turning it into a slog for both parties, which benefited the Kings. They’re older, they played the night before, they’re pretty much done this season. The Flames are younger, fresh, have a lot to look forward to, and instead stooped down to the Kings’ level.
A game with massive consequences was neutralized because the older, arguably wiser, team made it so, seemingly with little effort. They outshot the Flames from the get-go; even when the Flames had their big push in the third period – when they decided to try to start playing again – the Kings were still in control of the game, and capitalized off of their own chances. Ben Bishop had a lot more to deal with in the third, and he was ready, and there wasn’t much else to be done about that.
So it was a letdown. It should have been a much different night. Instead, it was the kind of night in which, if you were introducing someone to hockey for the first time, they wouldn’t get what’s so great about the sport at all.
There shouldn’t be any drama for the next game against the Sharks, so hopefully we actually get hockey then, because the Flames aren’t half bad at that.
The one redeeming note? If it had to be anybody to put on a show, play the game he wanted, and deny a clinch, thank god it was Jarome Iginla.