Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT) post-game embers: What are you doing

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.

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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.

  • calgaryfan

    Monahan soft one dimensional player, Backlund soft one dimensional player, Stajan soft ready to retire player, these are the Calgary Flames centers, maybe it is not the coach!

    • calgaryfan

      The Flames are not a hard team to play against, their compete level or tenacity is lacking. They have some players that do not appear to care enough about winning.

  • Derzie

    Mistake #1: Team not ready. Mistake #2: Didn’t play Rittich against team #30. Mistake #3: Brouwer. Mistake #4: Losing to the gd Sabres. Because they didn’t show up for this game, I’m not showing up for the next game. They don’t deserve our support after that effort. The GG awakening is over it seems. Back to the soon-to-be-fired version of himself.

    • Rudy27

      I think we are placing too much blame on Brouwer. He played pretty well most of the game. It’s the coaches fault for keeping him out for the whole OT penalty. First off, because you usually change of the PK unit within a minute if there is an opportunity. And secondly, those late draws could have been taken by Stajan, Monny, Janko or Bennett. Brouwer was just doing the best he could, and it looked like after loosing two draws he tried to just shoot it out off the puck drop (didn’t work).

    • where.is.ville?

      Bad game! They played like they did in December. Dominated much of the game, but could not score. Lots of fancy plays, resulting in lots of low percentage shots. We should have crushed the Sabres!

    • where.is.ville?

      Bad game! They played like they did in December. Dominated much of the game, but could not score. Lots of fancy plays, resulting in lots of low percentage shots (most of them blocked). We should have crushed the Sabres!

    • Eggs Bennett

      #2 How can you blame Smith for this one? How many grade A chances did he save? If anything you can say the first Sabres goal started from another brain fart blunder from Brodie standing in no mans land instead of taking the open man (or Jankowski for putting it on a tee for their forechecker).

      1st line can’t do it every night – we need secondary scorers to chip in. Also why was Mangiapane scratched for Hrivik? In a time when scoring has dried up, you make as many little moves to try and encourage offence; watching him play, it’s only a matter of time for 88 to breakout.

      • rusty_shakleforde

        I think Hrivik on his own was a good choice, but I think Mange should have been in as well. We desperately need to shift the lines around, and what better game (theoretically…) to do it in than this one?

  • Lucky 13

    This is the way I see it.
    If we don’t stay in the top three of the Pacific our season will be finished. We can’t afford to be fighting for a Wildcard berth.

    Colorado is hot. Dallas has been consistently good. Minnesota is gaining traction.

    If LA didn’t have a bad 5 game losing streak we would be out of the picture right now.

    We will either NEED to stay top 3 in the Pacific or we end up 10th in the Division and say bye -bye to playoffs.

    The truth is ugly..

    • Lucky 13

      I really don’t care if you trash the above, however here’s our current state.

      We are 9th in the Conference in points at 56.
      11th in the Conference with goal differential at +4.

      Tell me something I have missed or better yet, tell me why I’m wrong?

      • Chucky

        There are 35 games left and they need 40 points to get to 96 which looks like it is the magic number. Only 12 games against Pacific division opponents so not many true 4 point games left, winning the two against LA would help a lot and maybe reduce the number, three wins against Edmonton would feel good but not be much more significant than any other three wins, four wins against Vegas would have a significant impact because it would drag them back into play. It would take detailed schedule analysis to determine if all of Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota can all make it to 96 but the schedule could be the Flames friend.
        The idea of keeping in the top three of the Pacific may be the best approach to ensuring a playoff spot but it is staggering to think that at team with this level of talent is not chasing first in the conference.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I believe it will be very difficult to win a playoff round with GG at the helm. He has improved the team’s possession game but the man still gets himself out-coached on a regular basis. There was several times in that Sabres game where the Eichel line ended up out there against the 4th line – not sure how this happens on home ice. He also tries to go power vs. power at times not realizing the Backlund line is a better option for the other team’s top lines. His insistence on playing old, slow 4th liners on the PK is puzzling to me where the idea of the PK is to break up the other team’s passes with speed and aggression. Dougie Hamilton should be playing at least 2 to 3 more minutes a night – I thought he should have traded spots with Stone at least when there were only 3 seconds left on that kill in OT; if we killed it Dougie could go up the ice for the score. The love affair with Brouwer has to end. Brouwer looks good from the Backlund bump but is dragging the other two down. Frolik can’t come back soon enough.

    And yet… we have points in 9 straight. The seven game win streak in my view was in spite of Glen, not because of him. The personnel on the team is too good to completely stink out the entire season.

    • Skylardog

      The talent on this team is good enough to be first in the Pacific. Coaching is holding us back.

      We upgraded in goal and on D, and dumped some of the waste. We were 4th and upgraded. Those ahead all digressed from a roster standpoint.

      Anaheim is getting old and slow and has had injuries.
      LA has a new coach and has not upgraded from a weak team last year.
      SJ is in transition and in between dumping the old guys and finding new young guys to take over.
      Edmonton is one dimensional and did not replace Eberle’s scoring (over 50 points lost), they also missed their top DMan to injury up until now and Talbot was never going to perform at the level he did last year.
      Vancouver and Arizona are just plain awful.

      We should be 5 to 10 points better than all of these teams at the very least.

      That leaves Vegas. We are 10 points back of an expansion team, and while they are playing amazing hockey, we should be 4 wins better and giving them a run for their money for 1st. The game at the end of the month should be for 1st in the Pacific. I won’t be, we are 10 points back. Vegas is the model for what coaching, excitement, and having fun can do to a team.

      We should be in the top 5 in the NHL with this roster.

      • buts

        You hit the nail on the head skydog…..man oh man as a former coach myself its so frustrating to see GG holding a very talented team back. If BT wants to barely squeak into the playoffs and that’s a big if, then all we could possibly hope for is a first round win or 2. In the playoffs line matching and strategy and special teams are paramount. That’s the most BT will get out of GG. Worst bench/roster/specialty team/motivating coach I have seen in Calgary flames history.

    • Derzie

      GG showed his obsession with the vets in his ‘bank account’ discussion on the Jim Rome show. Vets start out with a full account, rookies with an empty one. GG got accolades for the interview. Apparently they missed the interview Dallas Eakins gave in the same vein. Sounded smart, actually dumb, stubborn and out of touch with reality.