Feel of the game
Here’s the thing: it wasn’t that bad of a start. It really, really wasn’t. The Flames didn’t score, but they had their chances: the kind that, if they kept at it long enough, eventually, they would start going in. (Is this a little too 2017-18? Sorry.) It’s just, the Penguins scored first.
And then they scored again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Poor defence combined with absolutely atrocious goaltending, and on the other end of the ice Matt Murray actually made these things I have been told are called “saves”, and it just gave the Flames absolutely nothing to work with. Their skaters might have had a chance to claw their way back into the game after the first period – and hell, they tried – but everything, including themselves, let them down. And then, by the time things had calmed down, there was just no point.
This isn’t the kind of game you can really lay on one person without being horribly unfair. Teams don’t lose by this kind of margin without nearly everybody being abhorrent. The good news is it’s unlikely to happen again; the bad news is that it happened at all.
The Flames started this game with a +5 goal differential. They ended it at -3. Repugnant.
The good news
Say what you will – and oh, god, it’s all pretty bad – but the Flames did have some pretty solid scoring chances. They didn’t come out flat, they came to play. Granted, that went away once everything went horribly wrong, but at least the start of the game seemed like it would be different, the smallest and most tepid of baby steps.
Dillon Dube looked legit. At a time in which his ice time is dropping and he seems to playing on the fourth line more often than not, he’s the one skater you could point to and probably say, “Yeah, he had a good game.” Three shots on net, and a couple of really high end scoring chances. I guess it’s a good thing he didn’t get his first NHL goal in this one, too, because who wants that memory? But on Thursday, Dube did remind us why he made the team.
Juuso Valimaki was spared.
They weren’t shut out, which is cool?
It was already off the rails by the time he came in, and he did end up giving up three goals anyway, but David Rittich calmed the game down. Which I guess is bad news if you wanted 10…
The bad news
So. You can’t blame this kind of effort all on one person. But also, Mike Smith. Yeah, he didn’t get much help from his defence, but you know how the Flames have been a mess in their own end (a little more on that later Friday)? And there’s an air of, “Well, what do you expect Smith to do?” The first thing: make saves, like Rittich was able to in all three of his starts this season. He’s played all of 26 games; this is not a high bar. The second thing: stop giving the other team free goals. Goal one, cover your net. Goal three, rebound. Goal four, rebound. Goal five, breakaway, but did he get smaller? Goal two was a stupid penalty and then a tip and goal six was a clean breakaway, but just… make the save. Make a save.
There’s no rhyme or reason to the defensive play, and we’ve seen that through the better part of 10 games now. Who could have possibly thought that trading away a top pairing defenceman and not getting one in return would have backfired? Totally unforeseeable. The Flames were betting on TJ Brodie rebounding to his form from literal years ago. So far, he has not. And with an untrustworthy 36-year-old goalie and fast and loose laissez faire who needs to backcheck or cover a man or do literally anything style of play going on, well, it’s surprising it’s taken 10 games to get this result.
You might even be able to argue that the game against the Canadiens could have been this game against the Penguins if Smith had started instead of Rittich. Also, quite frankly, down 6-0… the time to pull Smith was after the first period. If you were going to leave him out to dry, why not do it the whole game instead of putting the one innocent party in? If he wanted to stay in and that’s why he did, why not own that? What did Rittich do to deserve this, is what I’m asking.
The Flames went zero-for-three on the powerplay. They went zero-for-two on the penalty kill. Their powerplay is now 24th in the NHL and their penalty kill 26th. So were they planning on getting better at any point or…
Numbers of note
8 – So they lost by a touchdown and a two-point convert, and yeah, it’s a little frustrating because it’s been a long time since they’ve lost two meaningful games in a row, and they probably should have clinched the West by now, but the previous games they were just a single touchdown away from taking it, and that’s with a truly absurd amount of injuries, like the entire starting receiving core is gone and Eric Rogers and Lemar Durant still missed a lot of playing time before this season due to serious injuries, so hopefully it’ll be fine and the losses weren’t ultimately that bad– WAIT that’s the Stamps. Losing by eight points in a football game is not as bad. Also those guys lost their last two games by five points each. Losing by eight goals in hockey is actually very very very bad, my mistake.
58.26% – Because that’s what happens when you lose by eight goals and the other team can score at will and do whatever they want. You get an inflated pseudo-possession stat. Though the Flames actually were doing well in this department before the entire thing imploded.
13:24 – Dube’s ice time, including 2:49 of powerplay time, which was fifth most among all forwards. This was the second most total Dube has ever gotten to play in a game, the 3-0 win over Nashville being the most. Good for him!
18:54 – Travis Hamonic’s ice time in his return, third most among all defencemen, behind Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin. Welcome back, we missed you, we got you one of the worst losses in franchise history as a gift.
0:00 – Giordano and Brodie spent literally zero seconds on the ice together.
.866 – Smith’s save percentage on the season. It’s been seven games. And not even seven full games, because he’s done such a poor job he’s gotten pulled twice already. He’s 36 and coming off of an injury that kept him out for a month back in February. I really, truly don’t know what the Flames are expecting from him anymore, but if it’s starting quality goaltending, I mean… they might want to reevaluate? (What’s that they had a whole offseason to do that and instead just focused on their forwards while weakening their defence and praying their poor quality goaltending from the end of the previous season would magically be good enough to get them in the playoffs without a single change there? Tight.)
5-5-0 – Hey, that’s the record they had through 10 games last year! But with an improved -3 goal differential, instead of -5. This is one of the best starts to a season the team has had this decade. Don’t you feel better now?
It was one loss, but that’s the great part: it only counts as one. The Flames were not mathematically eliminated because they got blown out. The clock will reset and they’ll get to do it all over again another 72 times this year, and they will win some of those games, and they will lose some of them. The sky is not falling.
But you know, this is four brutal efforts in a row now, and the team is aware of this and yet they still keep doing it, and there are serious holes in their roster construction they both put there themselves and don’t have any real opportunity to fix, so maybe some people in charge might want to consider that for them, the sky might actually be falling.