The Calgary Flames have traditionally been a very good team in the game before Christmas. Remember Johnny Gaudreau’s hat trick in 2014 against Los Angeles? Remember his 2015 hat trick against Winnipeg? Remember other games where the Flames won decisively in their final game before the holiday break?
Well, the only thing decisive about this game was how flat the Flames looked compared to the visiting Montreal Canadiens. The Flames were out-battled and out-worked in effectively every game situation en route to a 3-2 loss to the Habs at the Saddledome.
Carey Price opened the game with a couple great saves on Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie 20 seconds into the first period. The Habs went the other way and Max Pacioretty danced around Brodie and beat Mike Smith with a backhander, but the goal was successfully challenged by the Flames on the basis of being off-side on the zone entry. The Habs kept pressing, though, and eventually got the first goal. The Flames failed to clear the offensive zone and Jordie Benn’s wrister from the point through traffic – and tipped by Byron Froese – beat Smith to make it 1-0. Shots were 11-10 Montreal, scoring chances were 11-7 Montreal.
Montreal doubled their lead in the second period, as their fourth line had a really nice effort. On a dump-in, Froese out-battled the Flames defenders in the corner to retrieve the puck, then fired the puck at the Flames net. The puck was saved by Smith, but bounced out and was batted in by Nicolas Deslauriers to make it 2-0. Shots were 12-7 Montreal, but Flames had a slight 6-5 scoring chance edge.
The Flames opened the third by killing off a penalty that they took in the dying moments of the second, but they gave up the eventual game-winner on the shift following the penalty kill. Artturi Lehkonen attempted a wrap-around that bounced across the goal-mouth – between three Flames players – and ended on the stick of Brendan Gallagher for a tap-in goal and a 3-0 lead. The Flames answered back midway through the period with a weird goal; Michael Frolik’s slap shot clanged off the far post, but Micheal Ferland snuck in behind Carey Price and tapped in the loose puck to make it 3-1. Matthew Tkachuk scored on a late power play to make it 3-2, but that’s as close as the Flames got. Shots were 12-6 Montreal, while scoring chances were 11-9 Montreal.
Why The Flames Lost
They weren’t very good at all tonight. They lost the majority of their 50/50 battles – if you check the tape on all three goals against, you can trace them all to broken plays and lost opportunities in their own end – and they generated next to nothing on the rush.
A team that has been seemingly defined by their lunch-bucket mentality and “playing the game the right way” got completely and utterly outworked for two and a half periods. That’s almost always a recipe for an L.
The only Flames that had more than two shots on goal were Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett, so they split this award by default. Smith was also fairly good for a guy that gave up three goals.
The Turning Point
The 2-0 goal completely took the wind out of the Flames’ sails. It was another battle lost and a nice secondary effort from Deslauriers to battle his way to the net-front for the rebound.
(Percentage stats are 5-on-5, data via Corsica.hockey)
This and That
Here’s a look (via our pal Mike Pfeil) of Andrew Shaw’s first period penalty against Mike Smith. He was given a tripping call for this collision, which led to some loud, mixed reactions from the Saddledome crowd.
Shaw definitely makes contact with Smith’s legs, but Smith definitely added a bit of showmanship to the tumble.
The Stockton Heat beat Tucson 4-1 in a key Pacific Division battle down in the desert.
“We were out-worked tonight. I thought we were out-battled in the trenches and that’s something that we wanted to take advantage of. We knew that they clutter up the neutral zone, it’s hard to get through. They do a good job of being above us all night. But what we wanted to be a trench game, we lost. And there’s no system for out-worked.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on his team’s performance.
“They out-worked us all night. Finally, last 10 minutes we got one and we started moving our feet a bit more, but that’s just because it’s a 3-0 game we’re pushing. But we got out-worked, out-battled. They played a good game. They came in with a road mindset, a battle mindset, and we didn’t match it. That’s the bottom line.” – Flames captain Mark Giordano on the loss.
“That’s what happens when you’re playing bingo balls and you’ve got nobody going. You can’t bench everybody. You’re trying to find some spark, and that’s what I was doing.” – Gulutzan on the line adjustments he made in the second part of the game. He broke up the Jankowski line for part of the second, then put them back together for the third and disassembled the 3M Line instead.
The Flames (18-15-3) are off the ice for a bit. They’re back on practice ice on Dec. 27 and then back in action on Dec. 28 when they visit the San Jose Sharks.