Even with a lacklustre start, the Flames just couldn’t get the game to go their way. They were sloppy at both ends of the ice – but maybe it’s a credit to something they were able to keep it a close game.
Feel of the game
Quite simply, the Flames couldn’t get anything to work for them. They had an incredibly difficult time actually getting their offence going, and when they were able to score, all it really did was nullify a previous mistake that had led to a Predators goal. And even then, their goals didn’t mean much: the Predators would always retake the lead just a matter of minutes after.
The Flames were just never a threat. They had a couple of glorious chances that maybe could have gone in, but they were already flirting too much with relying on luck to keep them in it. The more chances you get, the more likely you are to score. Goalies are still going to stop most golden chances – even mediocre goalies at the NHL level will still stop a little under 90% of the shots they face – so it isn’t, “Oh, if only that Matthew Tkachuk or Sam Bennett chance had gone in,” it’s, “Why weren’t they creating more of those?”
They never had the lead. They could barely keep the game tied. The offence failed, and when it succeeded the defence failed, and the goaltending, though in a tough spot with all of the failures and breakdowns ahead of it, wasn’t anything to write home about. The Flames would have been lucky to win; it’s a fitting fate for them that they lost.
The good news
Check out Bennett. Scoring three points in seven games is extremely far from being world-beating, but it’s a solid little start he’s putting together, especially considering he isn’t being slated as a top six player. He’s clearly still got moves, and he’s working hard. If Bennett had been selected lower than fourth overall, then he’d probably be a lot more loved, too: a lot less “where did everything go wrong?” and a lot more “this kid’s a solid NHLer.”
Yes, James Neal took that pointless penalty that gave the Predators a double minor to work with (not to mention a powerplay goal), but he was also one of the guys trying to score most often, even though he did have a point-less night. He’s starting to come alive, and did lead the way (along with Mark Giordano) with four shots on net. He hasn’t been amazing, but he hasn’t been a detriment either. And stupid penalty aside, I liked watching him in this one.
It again speaks to the Flames’ forward depth that their best line of the night – Bennett, Derek Ryan, and Neal – was assembled mid-game when Ryan took over for Mark Jankowski. This is a team that can just change lines on a whim and it seems to be paying off. And also that their top two scorers – Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk (10 points each) – play on two different lines. Scoring three goals in a game is typically a good thing, too, even though it didn’t work out in this one.
Special teams were, overall, kind of a wash, but at least they didn’t hurt the Flames one way or another: scored one powerplay goal, gave one up, killed off an extra penalty compared to the Predators. Could’ve been better, but considering the way they were playing on the night, also could’ve been a whole lot worse.
They gave up the empty netter, but at least they still have a positive goal differential at +3. And there still is something to be said about keeping the game within a goal when they weren’t that great.
The bad news
Mike Smith gave up a goal to Zac Rinaldo. Zac. Rinaldo. No matter what else happens in this season, that’s going to be a contender for low point of the year.
Speaking of Smith, cause for concern is back. No, he wasn’t given a lot of help; guys were constantly being left open right in front of him for prime scoring chances and there’s only so much you can ask of a guy. But he wasn’t exactly ready on the first goal, and that fourth goal – again, one given up to Zac Rinaldo – was the ultimate backbreaker. He deserved more help in front of him, but at some point, man, his save percentage was .867%. Two games aside, it’s just not good enough.
The Flames had a grand total of one shot in the first period before Elias Lindholm scored with 1:17 to go. That’s not exactly an acceptable start to any game. Maybe if they’d been a bit more on the ball to start they could have come away with a win? Or at least a point? For all their attempts at fighting back, they never were able to overcome that extremely lacklustre start.
For the first time this season, the Flames did not wear their retros at home. They lost for the first time at home. You do the math.
Numbers of note
55.67% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF throughout the game. They were a 46.67% in the first period and constantly put themselves in a position to play catch-up. It didn’t work.
8 – The number of high-danger corsi events for the Flames had at 5v5 in the third period. They had 12 all game. Too little, too late.
5 – The number of goals Elias Lindholm has scored this year, and the most on the Flames. He’s a clear upgrade to the forward group, and while I wouldn’t bet on this to last, dang, he’s made it very obvious how big of a boost he is so far.
17:01 – Michael Stone’s ice time on the night, more than his defence partner Juuso Valimaki (15:53) and not too far behind other rookie Rasmus Andersson (17:20). When things weren’t going as well, the Flames turned to a veteran. It’s a notice that for as much as Valimaki and Andersson often look like they belong in the NHL, the Flames might still like having that security blanket of “this guy has played over 400 NHL games”. (i.e. Just because some kids are shining, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to trade everyone else away.)
6:27 – Dillon Dube’s ice time. He came close to scoring his first NHL goal during the first period, but this is the lowest amount of ice he’s gotten in a game to date. Coming off of an injury probably has something to do with that, but as the sheen wears off from preseason, you’ve gotta wonder if he’s going to be able to step it up once again, or what else the Flames might have in mind. Is it better to play six minutes in the NHL or top line in the AHL? There’s no nine-game limit with him to worry about, so the Flames’ options are wide open.
4 – The number of sub-.900 save percentage games Smith has had so far this season. Out of six. Yikes. In his first six starts in 2017-18, he had two sub-.900 save percentage games.
We know the Flames are capable of being a better team than what they showed. We also know they were a couple of bounces away from actually winning this one, or at least taking it to overtime. But if you’re relying on a couple of bounces, well, we know how last season ended.
I think we see a better effort next game.