The Calgary Flames returned home on Sunday evening, and Mike Smith was back between the pipes. What could have been a time for celebration turned into a night of melancholy and frustration, as the Flames once again threw 50 pucks on net but couldn’t enough goals to win. They dropped a 5-2 decision to the visiting New York Islanders, somewhat dousing the embers of their flickering playoff hopes.
This game didn’t start out too well for the home side, as the Islanders scored on their second and third shots of the game. Off a face-off loss in the Flames zone, bodies piled up in front of the net and Nick Leddy’s wrister beat Mike Smith through oodles of traffic (and a deflection) to make it 1-0. On the very next shift, Johnny Boychuk held in a shot that rimmed around the boards, then flung it towards the net. Troy Brouwer attempted to swat the shot down, but only ended up turning it into a knuckleball that eluded Smith’s glove hand to make it 2-0. But the Flames answered back, as Johnny Gaudreau accepted a Sean Monahan pass and beat Christopher Gibson short-side (over the shoulder) to make it 2-1.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 11, 2018
But the Islanders made their lead two goals again a few minutes later, as Jordan Eberle tipped a Boychuk point shot only to be stoned by Smith. But the rebound went right to Eberle, who tucked it past Smith in one smooth motion to make it 3-1. Shots were 13-7 Flames and scoring chances 8-7 Flames.
Life got tougher for the Flames in the opening minute of the second period. Smith made an initial save on Boychuk, but the rebound was kicked right to Anders Lee for a no-doubt wrister into an open net and a 4-1 Islanders lead just 50 seconds into the period. The Flames had some decent looks for the remainder of the period, but couldn’t bury anything. Shots were 19-12 Flames, but scoring chances were 11-10 Islanders.
The Flames made it close midway through the third, as Mark Giordano entered the Islanders zone as the trailing man and got a shot off. The shot wasn’t corralled by Gibson and a scramble ended with Gibson nudging the puck into his own net to make it 4-2. But that was as close as the Flames got, and Lee added an empty-netter late to make it 5-2. Shots were 19-4 Flames and chances were 9-2 Flames.
Why The Flames Lost
It’s easy to point the finger at the goaltender, but take a look at the first three Islanders goals: a face-off loss and tons of traffic on a shot that went off Mark Jankowski’s foot, a Brouwer deflection against his own goaltender, and the defense failing to tie up Eberle on both the tip and the immediate rebound. It’s tough to win when there’s not much cohesion between the goaltender and the guys in front of him.
And beyond their defensive zone play on the goals against, the Flames didn’t do a great job of making their lives easier in other ways. They didn’t win a ton of battles. They didn’t generate much in the way of secondary scoring chances – there was a lot of “one shot, and then the Islanders clear the zone” on the evening. And despite having several lengthy power plays, they couldn’t translate power plays into goals or even much momentum.
Giordano was full of piss and vinegar on this evening, especially in the second half of the game when the team was chasing.
The Turning Point
Let’s go with the Eberle goal to make it 3-1. The Flames had just gotten one back and were only down by a goal. But there’s a world of difference between needing a bounce to get a game tied and needing two. On a night where it was incredibly difficult to beat the Islanders’ goalie, going down two goals after one period was just too tall an order for the home side.
(Percentage stats are 5-on-5, data via Corsica.hockey)
This and That
Adam Fox had a goal and an assist as Harvard won their winner-take-all playoff game against Dartmouth. They advance to the semi-final game against Clarkson next weekend.
Matthew Tkachuk left the game late in the third period after he went down awkwardly in a collision with Mat Barzal. He went to the Flames locker room and didn’t return. Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan had no updates on his status following the game.
“I thought we had some chances there, too. I didn’t like it early. I thought earlier we could’ve been better. Later we got better but we couldn’t score. The power play, most teams generate some zone time. We’ve got to find a way to get those second chances. We had a high tip and we didn’t get to the rebound and the second chances. That’s where you score. Two of their goals were rebounds, we gotta get those.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on his team’s power play.
“The desperation, the urgency just wasn’t there at the start. It got us behind the eight-ball. It’s tough to come back in this league. We threw everything at them, but it just wasn’t enough. It’s exhausting to try and chase the game, especially that early. That’s the way it went tonight.” – Mike Smith on his team’s performance.
Smith also had a great answer regarding what it’ll take the Flames to get into the post-season right now:
“You can’t win or lose a game on one shift. There’s been… I’ve been watching a lot of the games obviously, a lot of them from the press box. There’s times in games where it’s okay to try to make a fancy play and there’s other times in games where you just gotta put it in and grind. Gotta go to work, we’ve been saying it all year. It’s about doing the little things and building on the little things when you might not think they’re important things in the game, and they turn out to be the turning points in games. Those are the little things in games we need to build on and get everyone doing it, not just the grinders are blocking shots, we need everyone blocking shots. We need everyone doing the little things that it takes to win games. We do that, and we give ourselves a chance to get in there.”
The Drive to 96 (Points)
The Flames now have 78 points with 12 games remaining. They need 18 points over their remaining schedule – the equivalent of a 9-3-0 record – to hit the 96 point mark that’ll probably be the playoff cut-off.
The Flames (34-26-10) practice tomorrow. They host Edmonton on Tuesday.