There’s really no point in mincing words: the Buffalo Sabres are a bad hockey team, 30th in the NHL, and the Flames just lost to them.
You’re gunning for a playoff spot? It doesn’t hurt that the Sabres got a point, but this certainly wasn’t the performance anyone would expect out of a playoff team.
Join an exclusive club
The Sabres picked up their 12th win of the season when they beat the Flames. With that, the Flames join 11 other teams who have suffered losses to the Sabres this season: the Bruins (OT), the Devils (OT), the Blue Jackets, the Capitals, the Flyers, the Red Wings, the Senators, the Avalanche, the Coyotes, the Ducks, and the Oilers.
There are some pretty good teams on that list, so that at least helps soothe the ego a little. But still, this is a team that had only won 11 times, had a -59 goal differential (worst in the NHL), and the Flames couldn’t do a thing to them. Chad Johnson had a .878 save percentage, nothing. Johnny Gaudreau is top five in points, Sean Monahan is tied for top 10 in goals, nothing. One powerplay goal and entire segments where the Flames let the Sabres control the flow of the game.
I guess they could check the standings and see they’re still in a playoff spot. But you need points to make the playoffs to begin with, and the Flames shrugged their shoulders and lost one because they matched the performance of one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Having any of their injured guys back would probably help, but that performance was completely unacceptable. Nobody is calling for a blowout, but more than one goal against the team that has surrendered the third most in the NHL shouldn’t be a monumental ask. Apparently it was.
Yeah, overtime was bad, but
Mikael Backlund took a bad penalty, and from there, it was over.
Backlund is the Flames’ best penalty killer. It is never a good sign to see him in the box, especially for something hilariously unnecessary, especially as regulation is about to end. And the Flames didn’t just lose a good penalty killer; they also lost the forward who would have been third over the boards in overtime. They lost their best two-way player and that saw Troy Brouwer man the entire kill, a winger repeatedly losing faceoffs, and that last faceoff lost ended up hurting a fair amount.
Yes, it’s really bad that something with an obvious alternate option may have cost the Flames a point. (Monahan or whoever else may have lost the faceoff as well and then it’s the same result, but less angst, which goes to show how flippant this whole thing is.)
But here’s the thing: it never should have gotten to that point to begin with. I’ll refer you to section one: the Sabres are a bad team, and the Flames didn’t do nearly enough to try to beat them. Brouwer missed a tap-in. Curtis Lazar almost scored except he’s not particularly good so he did not. Brett Kulak has failed to get a goal this far in his NHL career, not for lack of trying, and he had a number of good looks, but just couldn’t pot the puck.
Matthew Tkachuk was probably the most dangerous Flame the entire game but it just wasn’t good enough. Even with the injured players, it is once again becoming readily apparent the Flames’ forward group isn’t deep enough. When the top line is on they’re amazing; when they aren’t, who’s going to cover for them?
Chad Johnson was the better goalie
Literally nobody is going to take Chad Johnson over Mike Smith at this point. Smith has proved his worth and then some over the season to date, evidently the perfect pick up for the Flames. He’s let in some bad goals – and both of the ones last night could have been stopped – but he’s also made a number of fantastic saves, as well.
But Johnson was simply the better goalie on the night. He stopped 32 of 33 shots, the one goal he surrendered an outstanding tip courtesy of Tkachuk. He thwarted Gaudreau multiple times, leaving him seemingly helpless. He was squared up to every high danger chance his defence surrendered.
While Smith didn’t earn a loss, Johnson earned that win. He was just that one extra save better.
Of course, if the Flames were going to win that one, they were counting on their goalie to post a shutout: never a good strategy.
If only the powerplay could do a little more
One-for-three on the powerplay isn’t a bad stat line. Sure, if the Flames had scored one more powerplay goal, they wouldn’t have lost, but this game was more about their failures at even strength than their failures on the man advantage.
No, this is more to note that of the three powerplays the Flames had, Tkachuk drew two of them (Smith the other). It was gravy that Tkachuk actually scored, elevating him to another level of productivity.
But this is neat: Tkachuk has drawn 31 penalties this season at all strengths, tied with Tom Wilson for the most in the NHL. He’s good on all sides of the puck: he can score, he can defend, he can get his team on the powerplay. Imagine how much more impressive that would be if the Flames’ powerplay actually functioned more often than not. And Tkachuk only has 42 penalty minutes this season; Wilson has 109.
Tkachuk just excels at every facet of the game. He played 19:21 and had six shots on net, as well; he was one of the Flames’ most relied upon players. That’s a statement that will probably hold up for years to come.
Seriously, you lost to the Sabres
The Flames getting a point helped keep them solely in second place in the Pacific. They’re a point up on the Kings with the same number of games played; they’re two points back of the Sharks with the Sharks having a game in hand.
There are a couple of games to scoreboard watch today, including the Kings against the Canucks, and the Sharks against the Jets. Best case scenario, the Flames will be a point up on the Kings with a game in hand by the end of the night, and two points back of the Sharks with the same number of games played. Worst case, they’ll be back of the Kings by a point with a game in hand, and four points back of the Sharks.
Which is to say: the standings are extremely close and letting a gimme point slip away is unacceptable.
But their next game is against the Kings – and I’ll take a loss to the Sabres if it means a win over the Kings. But there’s no reason it couldn’t have been two wins instead.