The best team in the Western Conference came to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night, primed for a battle with the Calgary Flames. The home side played great in the first period, and generally looked pretty good against a strong opponent. But a few broken sticks, a few scoring opportunities clanged off goal posts and crossbars, and a few bounces later, the Flames dropped a 2-0 loss to the Predators.
For the umpteenth time this season, the Flames played very well for long stretches but had very little to show for it on the scoreboard or in the standings.
There was no scoring in the first period, but for the home side it was not from lack of trying. The Flames played one of their better first periods of the entire season. Mark Giordano hit the crossbar on a three-on-one rush after a successful penalty kill, while T.J. Brodie hit the post late in the period. Shots were 12-6 Flames.
The middle period was weird. It was looser on both fronts, as the Flames opened things up a little bit. They had a strong power play early but couldn’t score. Then they had a strong penalty kill, generating some nice offensive zone time despite being down a man. Garnet Hathaway got clipped by Austin Watson in the middle of the period, leading to (a) a fight with Troy Brouwer and (b) Watson being ejected from the game. Due to Brouwer receiving an instigator penalty, there was a period of four-on-four play. The Flames were caught on their heels a bit and a bouncing puck was swatted by Ryan Johansen and careened into the net off Mike Smith’s foot to make it 1-0. The Flames then had a lengthy power play sequence, including a full two minutes of five-on-three. Their two-man advantage generated three shots and their remainder of the Watson major at five-on-four generated zero. Kevin Fiala deflected a Kyle Turris shot through Smith’s five-hole to make it 2-0 with 38.7 seconds left in the period. Shots were 16-9 Predators.
The Predators turned on their defense for the third period. They did their best not to give very much up, and largely succeeded. The Flames pressed late in the period, even pulling Smith for the extra attacker, but they couldn’t mount any kind of a comeback. Shots were 11-6 Flames.
Why The Flames Lost
There were two big culprits, and they’re related.
They could not beat Pekka Rinne. And when they were able to, they missed the net or clanged a shot off some metal. Hockey’s often a game of inches, and tonight the Flames just couldn’t quite put the puck where they needed to. (To steal a phrase from Maxwell Smart, they “missed it by that much.” Their power play was a lot better than it has been recently, and by that I mean they got into the offensive zone and had some chances. That said, they just couldn’t get anything in the net.
If you’re looking for positives, their puck management (especially in their own zone) was a lot better than it has been over the last while.
Let’s go with Giordano, who led the team in shots and seemed primed to score a goal. He didn’t, obviously, but he was the best of the Flames players that didn’t score any goals.
The Turning Point
The Flames had three minutes of power play time in the middle of the second period, including a full two minutes of a five-on-three. They generated three shots, four blocked shots and one missed shot during that span. They had some good looks, including a great one in the slot where Micheal Ferland’s stick exploded. The Predators killed the penalties off, though, and Fiala scored late to put this one completely out of reach.
That power play scores one (or more), and it’s a completely different game.
(Percentage stats are 5-on-5, data via Corsica.hockey)
This and That
Mike Smith was presented with a silver stick prior to the game to commemorate his 500th NHL game on the last road trip.
Matthew Phillips scored a goal and an assist, but Victoria lost 6-2 to Vancouver. Glenn Gawdin had a goal in Swift Current’s 3-1 win over Kamloops.
The Flames power play is 3-for-37 since Kris Versteeg went out with his injury.
Following the game, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan indicated that he disagreed with the instigator penalty to Troy Brouwer in the second period, feeling that his fight with Austin Watson had “two willing combatants.”
#Flames captain Mark Giordano: “I thought our power-play was better as far as generating chances, but bottom line is we’ve gotta find a way to get one. When you get a five-on-three for a long period of time, you have to score in this league. That hurt.”
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) December 17, 2017
“We’re not playing bad hockey. We’re actually playing good hockey, but we’re not getting any help with our power play. I thought our penalty kill today looked real sharp. Our five on five game’s intact, we hit four or five crossbars or posts. We’re having a little bit of trouble generating, we’re squeezing a little bit five on five, but our power play is the one thing that’s gotta bail you out when you go through these things, and it’s not.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on his team’s performance.
The Flames (16-14-3) are off to Vancouver! They play the Canucks tomorrow evening at Rogers Arena.