Heading into tonight’s edition of the Battle of Alberta, the Calgary Flames were a team with a bit of momentum while their northern Alberta counterparts, the Edmonton Oilers, were a team you could characterize as “flailing.” Like a leaky boat in a storm, the Oilers were just trying to stop taking on water. The Flames had an opportunity before them tonight: a strong game could throw an anchor into the Oilers’ leaky boat and widen the hole in their hull, while a bad game could toss Edmonton’s crew a life preserver. They threw them a life preserver.
The Flames put forth one of their most uneven performances of this season en route to a 7-5 loss against Edmonton.
The Flames had a lot of power play time early, with a double-minor to Oscar Klefbom giving them a good chunk of time. Unfortunately, they didn’t generate very much and the big early kill seemed to give the Oilers a bit of swagger. The home side got caught up watching out for Connor McDavid frequently in the first period, often trying to suppress him via a zone defense and, failing that, multi-man presses. Unfortunately, that opened up time and space for his teammates. After a McDavid zone entry led to the Flames chasing him around a bit, Drake Caggiula’s (intentionally wide) slapper bounced off the end boards and back out to Jesse Puljujarvi, who chipped the puck over a sprawling Mike Smith to make it 1-0. A little while later the Flames were caught watching again on a McDavid zone entry on an Oilers power play, but the subsequent goal from Pat Maroon was called back due to it going in off his skate (with a distinct kicking motion). But a little later, Eric Gryba’s point shot went through Mark Giordano’s skate, off Puljujarvi’s shin-pad, off Smith’s leg and into the net to make it 2-0. The Flames finally got on the board on a power play, and it wasn’t even their power play. With Garnet Hathaway in the box, Mikael Backlund stole a puck just inside the Flames blueline and fed Michael Frolik on a two-on-one for a short-handed market to make it 2-1. But 1:23 later, on the same power play, Jujhar Khaira beat Smith with a wrister from the slot that squeaked through his pads to make it 3-1. Shots were 16-13 Oilers and scoring chances were 10-3 Oilers.
Edmonton scored twice in the second period to widen their lead. With the Flames on an early power play, T.J. Brodie mishandled a puck at the point. As the last man back, Brodie had the chance to cheat back to guard against the pass from Zach Kassian to Mark Letestu, or press to keep the puck in the zone. He chose poorly, was Kassian chipped the puck over his sliding body and sprung Letestu for a short-handed breakaway – Letestu scored to make it 4-1. From there, the Flames puttered around and failed to generate very much on the rush. The Oilers added a late goal, as a failed clearing attempt allowed the Oilers to stack bodies in front of Smith and one of them, Milan Lucic, tipped home an Eric Gryba point shot to make it 5-1. Shots were 11-8 Oilers and scoring chances were 9-3 Oilers.
David Rittich came in for the third period and gave up a goal that was embarrassing for all involved soon afterwards. After an Oilers dump-in, Rittich went behind the net to settle the puck for his defenders. Unfortunately, Brett Kulak and Travis Hamonic have little experience playing with (a) each other or (b) Rittich, and neither went back to grab the puck. Pat Maroon did, though, and tucked the loose puck past a sprawling Rittich to make it 6-1. From there, though, the Flames started chipping away at the lead:
- Sam Bennett’s shot from the bottom of the far faceoff circle somehow squirted through Laurent Brossoit to make it 6-2.
- Micheal Ferland added a power play goal from the top of the circle midway through the third to make it 6-3.
- Kris Russell blews a tire on a two-on-two, allowing Bennett to drive the net and beat Brossoit with a wrister on the rush to make it 6-4.
- Johnny Gaudreau scored on the rush from a bad angle to make it 6-5, ending a sequence where Brossoit allowed three goals on four shots.
The Flames had a late power play to try to tie things up, but the power play amounted to very little and Brodie ended up tilting the game late as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to feed a pass to the slot with a minute left, but Brodie redirected it past Rittich to make it 7-5. Shots were 13-6 Flames and scoring chances were 10-5 Flames.
Why The Flames Lost
The Flames were a schizophrenic team. They played too loose and too tight, often in the same shifts. They had swagger at times, and at times they seemed nervous as heck. They played a simple game in the third period when the Oilers sat back a bit, but man, they had a multiple chances to take hold of the game or at least take away some of Edmonton’s momentum and they couldn’t do it.
Edmonton’s special teams were better than Calgary’s, by far. And until things got too loose defensively in the third – and their goalie started leaking goals – they were way better at even strength, too.
Let’s go with Bennett, who sparked the aborted comeback with a couple goals – one of which was a weird one from a bad angle. Gaudreau was also pretty good tonight.
The Turning Point
The Flames had a great chance to get back into this game with an early second period power play. Down 3-1, it could’ve gotten them some much-needed momentum. Instead, it was a back-breaker. They never recovered from Letestu’s goal.
I mean, sure, they made it close in the final frame, but the insanity of the third period was as much a product of the Oilers sitting back and Brossoit not being a great goaltender as much as it was the Flames getting themselves back into it. Score effects and a bad goalie don’t excuse the 45 minutes of bad hockey that came before.
(Percentage stats are 5-on-5, data via Corsica.hockey)
This and That
In the WHL: Glenn Gawdin had a goal but Swift Current lost to Moose Jaw 3-2. Nick Schneider made 32 saves as the Hitmen beat Red Deer 4-3 in a shootout. Dillon Dube had two assists as Kelowna beat Kootenay 5-2.
The lines got shuffled up almost entirely in the third period:
- Jagr moved from playing with Bennett & Jankowski to playing with Monahan & Gaudreau
- Hathaway moved from playing with Stajan & Brouwer to playing with Bennett & Jankowski
- Ferland moved from playing with Monahan & Gaudreau to playing with Stajan & Brouwer
- The defensive pairs were torn asunder: Giordano played with Stone, Hamilton with Brodie, and Kulak with Hamonic.
Glen Gulutzan’s post-game presser had some interesting answers.
"We seem to freeze a bit until something good happens and that is something we have to address." – Glen Gulutzan pic.twitter.com/rXydo7Zv1D
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 3, 2017
“What we really have to evaluate with our group is how, at what level, emotional level are we at when we play big games. I’m not concerned about energy, I thought there was energy, I just thought there was a ton of nervous energy. The way we passed the puck, we couldn’t catch a pass. We couldn’t make a pass. What concerns me is really, with this group, on the mental side of the game, is that fight, flight or freeze mentality. We seem to freeze a bit until something good happens and then we can start to move. That is something we have to look at.” – Gulutzan, on the team’s overall performance.
“It seems with our group the more tension there is, the more tension there is in their sticks. And we have to move past that.” – Gulutzan, on the team playing tight in “big games.”
“To be honest with you, when they’re wound tight, when I can tell they’re wound tight and they’re right digging in, I worry sometimes about them in those stages because they play better when there’s a bit of confidence, well it’s confidence, but with less pressure at times. And that’s something we need to deal with better here as a group. They’re almost waiting for something good to happen at times. You guys see that. You saw it today, but you also see it when we score a goal, how much we can surge after we can score a goal. And you saw it in the third period tonight. That’s too late.” – Gulutzan, on the team’s mentality.
The Flames (14-11-1) are off tomorrow, then host the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.