The Calgary Flames returned home on Thursday night after a brief trip to the Twin Cities. The Flames came in playing some of their most consistent hockey of the season, posting points in four consecutive games. But the locals were at the Jekyll and Hyde best against the San Jose Sharks; good in the first and third periods but awful in the second, and strong at even strength but dicey with their special teams.
A late goal sunk the Flames as they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Sharks, but they were fortunate to be in a position to get points given how uneven they played.
The Flames went up in the first period, scoring first for the first time in awhile. Sharks blueliner Tim Heed threw a muffin up the middle in his own end. Michael Frolik grabbed it, walked in and put it between Aaron Dell’s legs to make it 1-0. But the lead did not last the period, as Chris Tierney drove the net and Mike Smith made a dandy poke check… but the puck went right to Timo Meier, who put the puck in the open net to tie the game 1-1. Shots were 13-9 Flames, scoring chances were 8-6 Flames.
The Sharks were all over the Flames in the second period, as the home side had one of their flatter periods of the season. Their power play was awful, barely able to gain the offensive zone – even on a five-on-three. There was a stretch where the first line was hemmed into their own zone for long enough for the Sharks to get a complete line change without losing puck possession. That was followed by Mike Smith getting called for tripping, and that was followed by Tierney jamming home a rebound after an initial shot by Kevin Labanc to make it 2-1. Shots were 14-10 Sharks, but scoring chances were 8-4 Flames.
The locals woke up in the third period and made a game of it. Garnet Hathaway stole the puck at the Sharks blueline and began a two-on-two rush. The Sharks were all over Hathaway, but he shuffled a pass to Johnny Gaudreau for a tap-in goal and a 2-2 tie. But just when it seemed like the Flames would be headed to overtime once again, disaster struck. Gaudreau fell in the Sharks zone and instead of chipping the puck deep, he shuffled it up the middle. That gave the Sharks an odd-man rush and Joonas Donskoi jammed the puck past Smith to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead. The Flames pulled their goalie but could not tie the game. Shots were 11-6 Flames, scoring chances were 13-4 Flames.
Why The Flames Lost
The Flames weren’t amazing overall in the second period, but that isn’t what sunk ’em. Their bad power plays were what sunk ’em. They had 3:34 of power play time during this game, including 38 seconds of a two-man advantage. They had three shots on the power play and zero during their five-on-three. The Sharks had as many shots on net during Calgary’s power plays as the Flames did.
When your special teams can’t give you an advantage during close divisional games, you have a big, big problem.
Let’s go with Smith. He took the blame for the loss following the game due to allowing the late goal to trickle through him, but he was rock-solid otherwise and gave the team a chance to win.
The Turning Point
Gaudreau blowing a tire after turning back towards the offensive blueline late in the third period was a small moment, but it gave the Sharks momentum and numbers and, ultimately, a win.
(Percentage stats are 5-on-5, data via Corsica.hockey)
This and That
Flames coach Glen Gulutzan swapped Gaudreau and Sam Bennett late in the second period. His rationale was that the Monahan line wasn’t generating much and that they could use someone like Bennett who could win some physical battles. Both line seemed to have a good third period, so it wasn’t a bad move.
“You can’t turn back with three minutes left, you can’t turn back. You have to play forward. You can’t turn back. We needed to get points. We needed to take that into overtime and get the points.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on Johnny Gaudreau’s turnover late in the game.
“Tonight, close game, you’ve got to be at your best. Second goal, it was a penalty because I trip a guy and the last goal, it’s gotta be stopped. It’s a stoppable puck and a controllable puck. It’s on me tonight.” – Flames goalie Mike Smith on his performance.
The Flames (16-13-3) practice tomorrow. They’ll host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.