Blues 3, Flames 1 post-game embers: Go rest and recharge

It was a matinee game before a holiday break – one that the Flames were guaranteed to go into staying first in the division. This had all the makings of a trap game, and that’s exactly what it was, but hopefully that won’t be used to excuse perhaps the biggest problem with this team.

Feel of the game

Sometimes, teams are just going to have bad games. That the Flames have been on such an amazing stretch for a solid month and a half, at least, makes it seem unfathomable that they could play so poorly. Lightning game aside, though, the edges have started to fray, and this one wasn’t really an exception.

The Flames were poor in the first, and couldn’t get a save when they needed it. A quick powerplay goal late in the first to draw them back within one – after the Blues had already scored two goals absolutely nobody in red looked good on – gave them some life, and that carried well into the second period. They dominated the middle frame, to the extent it was extremely unfortunate they couldn’t tie the game up, let alone not get the lead. When they played the Blues earlier in the week, the Flames chased Jake Allen with ease; his performance Saturday compared to last Sunday was night and day.

And that was about it for the Flames. Once the Blues scored early in the third period to restore their two-goal lead, the game was technically still in reach, but time kept ticking down with very little of note actually happening, and the Flames quietly flared out to their third loss in a row.

The good news

Even though the Flames have had lacklustre efforts in two of their past three games, it doesn’t feel like they’re on a losing streak. It’s probably a bit of leftover thrill from just how good the game against the Lightning was, and the knowledge that it’s extremely likely this team makes the playoffs, but a small stretch of poor play doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. That’s not to say the team shouldn’t take it seriously – they absolutely should – but the vibe between a losing streak this year and one last year is totally different. There’s still a belief this year that the team is capable of bouncing back – if not in the game, then at least in the season.

Johnny Gaudreau is almost always a good player, but he also frequently goes into these phases in which he just takes complete control of the game. He’s in one of those stretches right now. It only resulted in a single point for him, though he was the driving force behind many of the chances the Flames just couldn’t capitalize on.

The Flames’ lone goal, just seven seconds into their first powerplay, was a thing of absolute beauty. Sam Bennett came close to scoring early on in the second powerplay, too. Though it only went one-for-four, it’s still a sign of positivity that the Flames have the personnel to get things done. From faceoff win to deft passing to tap-in – they couldn’t have drawn it up any better. (And Matthew Tkachuk really does belong in front of the net. It’s the perfect spot for him on the man advantage.)

The bad news

Though it doesn’t feel like the Flames are on a losing streak, they are. The holiday break will probably do them quite a bit of good, but there’s still a concern there: they have to know they can’t let this attitude creep in and yet, it’s there anyway. The Blues are a beatable opponent and the Flames spent most of the game not even trying. They just lost the season series to one of the weaker teams in the West; those were points for the taking they passed up on.

Also, what is it with the officials blowing the play dead when the team that’s getting the powerplay is in control of the puck?

Let’s be clear here: the Flames, as a collective whole, were pretty bad. But, whether it’s fair or not, the goalie will always be held to a higher standard when it comes to evaluating his performance versus the rest of his team’s because he plays such an isolated position. So while Mike Smith didn’t exactly get any help from his teammates on the goals he let in, they were also goals he absolutely had to stop. The first goal against was embarrassing. The second and third goals against were poor rebounds. I think it’s fair to say that, if David Rittich had been in net, he would have had at least two of those, if not all three, assuming he would have allowed for those rebound opportunities to begin with. And Smith could get the benefit of the doubt – were it not for the fact we’re halfway through the season and he’s been letting those kinds of goals in all year.

The Flames need to start being honest with themselves. Smith will turn 37 years old in March; he’s getting up there for a professional athlete, let alone one who has suffered injuries in the past, including a pretty substantial one back in February. He should not be in the team’s future plans. He probably shouldn’t be in any team’s future plans. It looks like his career is coming to a graceless end, but it’s an end all the same.

The problem: the Flames, even as they’re losing, look like a legitimate team more often than not. It’s probably fair to expect them to at least win a playoff round, if not more. League average goaltending can probably get them there; Rittich can probably get them there. Would anybody, at this stage, trust Smith with any kind of appearance in the playoffs? The team seems to have a difficult time playing in front of him now when he gives up goals like the ones he did Saturday: why bother trying when the guy in net is going to undo all of your work?

For as long as Smith is on this team, he will get starts. Rittich is not going to start 40-something games in a row. The Flames are also likely buyers, and the number one position they need help in is goaltending. Them trading for a goalie at some point before the trade deadline just seems like an obvious conclusion at this stage. It might have to involve waiving Smith. But it would be earned: this cannot continue, and he is no longer trustworthy in net. One decent stretch does not outweigh three months of giving up goals that, at times, would make a kid in juniors blush.

Numbers of note

58.67% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the day. They can thank a 75.76% second period for that; it was the only time they really looked alive.

2:35, 2:50 – Both powerplay units got roughly equal ice time. The first unit scored; the second unit came close.

5 – James Neal led the way with five shots on net. He is shooting at 3.8%. His career average is 11.8%. Everything looks a lot better when the puck is going in (consider Micheal Ferland at the start of the 2017-18 season, and Ferland when he stopped shooting at 18% – he still looked good, but he was no longer a world beater). Shooting percentage changes everything. Neal is going through the worst stretch he ever has right now, even though he has gotten plenty of chances. There’s no guarantee it turns around this season, or ever, really, but there should still be hope for him. Things get forgiven pretty quickly when guys start scoring.

10:15 – After missing a month due to injury, Michael Frolik played a little over 10 minutes in his first game back, and had no special teams time. He had two shots in what turned out to be a modest return, though only Garnet Hathway (5:39) and Alan Quine (3:33) played less than he did among the forwards (Derek Ryan played 10:48, though).

0.888% – Smith’s save percentage through 21 games this season. The league average save percentage this season is 0.908%. Smith has exceeded that mark in nine games.

Final thought

Four days without games. Here’s to the Flames recharging, because we know they’re better than this. They just have to start showing it on a consistent basis. Losses are perfectly acceptable; playing like that shouldn’t be.

    • Em Durp Em Hrudey

      I think Hrudey has to be a strong candidate. He already lives in Calgary, has been to the cup finals, and knows everything about goaltending. Sign him to a pro try out and lets see where it goes from there….”right”.

    • BendingCorners

      Smith to the IR maybe and cycle the prospects. Not much cap space and probably no market for Smith. Parsons might earn a shot if his good play continues.

    • Ari Yanover

      I think we’ll be tackling something on this in the new year. Or at least after the four-day break, depending on availability. Hopefully we can get a comprehensive list going!

    • Flamesforever

      Agreed. He definitely looks like he’s taken a step this year, his shot is heavier and he uses it more and it looks like he’s faster overall. (His edge work has always been elite but his North south skating is up a notch) to me he looks like he’s put on some more muscle and that’s definitely helping him out.

  • Off the wall

    Good morning FN.
    Two days until Christmas. Time marches so quickly, especially when you’re a ole fart like me.

    Yes, we had a stinky game. Finger pointing and blame seems fitting, however I wanna reflect on what a great season we’ve had so far.

    Remember the Colombus game? Down 4-1 in the 1st. We roared back scoring 5 goals in the 2nd period, finishing the game with a 9-6 victory! That was amazing.

    Or the MSG curse that was broken. We hadn’t won since 2008. Well we put that to bed!

    The thrilling comeback against Philadelphia? I lost my voice that game. Andersson scores his first goal with 70 seconds left and Monahan ties it up with 7 seconds left. Gaudreau scores the winner on the first shift in OT! Remember that? Of course you do!

    The recent fast paced game against the best team in the league, Tampa? And we could have easily won it as well! Yah, that’s some fun hockey we’ve been treated to.

    Christmas reminds me to be thankful. I am. On a personal note, I’ve had some great experiences this year. Some have taught me important lessons, ( I hope I always learn more) others have brought me happiness. I’m simple. I like it that way.

    The Flames have provided many glorious comebacks. I’m really proud of our team and the way Peters has handled our squad. He’s got a bit of snarl, a bit of the positive father reinforcement, that has the our beloved team playing the kind of hockey that we enjoy and moves us out of our seats most games. I choose to reflect on those.

    Being #1 in the Pacific is not what I expected when the season began. I was going to be happy with 3rd, and holding our own. My personal expectations have been exceeded.

    My love for the Flames will never change. I’m a lifer ..like you.

    I’m too old to still believe in Santa, however it’s been nothing short of a Christmas miracle so far.

    I consider FN my extended family, and I’m thankful for this forum to express my thoughts.

    To all of you at FN, writers, members and silent readers, may you have a very safe and Merry Christmas! I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings.

      • Off the wall

        Thanks BTF!
        Some are still waiting for power to be restored. My thoughts go out to them.

        Take care of your little one. He’s adorable.They’re precious and time and events change so fast.

        I get a little sentimental this time of the year. Tough as nails playing hockey, soft as a marshmallow at home. ?

        • Chucky

          Just heard that Chamainus finally got power, it seems that they were the final big community to be totally without. Hopefully everyone will be back on line by tomorrow night and the Hydro workers can get back with their families, I understand that as recently as yesterday the ferries were still bringing more workers in to pole dance for us.

  • Day1-Cfan

    Let us hope that some of these players use this break to reflect on what needs work in their game and do something about it. Yesterday against St. Louis shows some of the teams weaknesses and a lacklustre effort.
    How many times do we have to see the same thing out of Smith? (Does he need glasses or what). Talk about lacking in hockey IQ he is right up there.
    As for Mr. Neal hope he gets some time in the basement over the holidays shooting pucks against the wall, maybe he should invite Smith over and they can work on their game together in the basement.

    Happy holidays to all ! Drive safe and see you all against the Jets next!

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      When it comes to Smithim starting to beive this is a story of both old dogs and new tricks. The old dog part is really that age has to play a part in Smith’s decline. It may in fact lead to a second problem … one in Smith’s head as he starts to fight the inevitable aging curve, putting panicky doubt in his head. As far as new tricks it does really look like Smith is struggling with the new goalie equipment. How many weak goals have we seen go through the armpit!? I wonder how many of the other older guys are experiencing this as well.

      • MDG1600

        You are on to something. in the old dog new tricks department I can’t think of a goalie who has struggled with the mandated changes to goalie equipment more than Mike Smith. The new rules shrunk the size of the both the chest and arm protectors. Now think about how many goals Smith has let in this year that went through his armpit. I have seen the Flames score a few through the armpit this year but not as many as Smith has allowed.

  • MDG1600

    In the long run the real bad news at the Christmas break is James Neal. If James Neal wasn’t a vet and was a new kid named Joe Shlabotnik, and was a call up from the AHL this year, absolutely nobody would be saying : “Wow, this kids looks like he is ready to break out… he just needs more ice time playing with the top line”. We all wish and hope that his game improves but OMG I can not believe how badly he handles the puck. For me while Smith is annoying as hell at least he is gone at year end. The Neal contract on the other hand will really damage the teams ability to add that last player or two that can make the Flames a legit Stanley Cup contender.

  • Flamesforever

    Got a feeling we haven’t seen the last of Dube this season, I have really high hopes for this kid. I liked the speed/tempo he brought early this season, once he really finds his consistency in the Ahl I feel like we have a top 6 winger on our hands. How good would our team look if he could grab that spot? (Left side of Backlund and Tkachuk is still up for grabs, Benny has flashes but I don’t think he has the hockey IQ to play with those guys) I’m looking forward to what the new year brings for our team! So much talent and we still haven’t reached our potential! On our way to being a perennial powerhouse in the west. GFG ?

      • Flamesforever

        Probably one of the reasons his development has been stunted. He could have definitely used some time in the A. Also I believe Dube has superior hockey IQ, which is absolutely huge in today’s NHL.

    • Albertabeef

      Okay first off Tkachuk plays the left side we need the right side filled. Dube could fill that spot as he does play right wing as well however not quite yet. The only way you will see him before playoffs is if we make a trade or loose a top 4 forward (knock on wood). We need the AHL team competitive and Dube needs a little time. 3 injuries in his first 20 games might suggest he needs to strengthen up a little before returning.

      I like Benny. He is still very young at 22. He is also learning how to mix his offence with being dependable defensively. Two years of playing with Jankowski, Hathaway, Stajan, and Brouwer may have hurt his offence. Not every draft year is there a generational superstar and definitely not all top five picks are elite. I still think Sam has a lot to contribute to this hockey team.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I still think we need to better balance the lines so that we can address our scoring challenges in the bottom 6.

    – Janko brings defensive responsibility and offensive creativity
    -current top line not getting it done at 5v5
    -True shutdown line not much pure offense
    -Grit, skill, and creativity
    -Tkachuk needs boost at 5v5
    -Neal gets PP time but moves to 4th line…winning without him
    -the team is wasting too many chances trying to set up Neal



    Backlund needed for zone entries and D to D for Ras

    • Tkachuk'sLisp

      I…this…this is terrible.

      You say the current top line isn’t getting it done 5v5 (?) so you put a guy with 12 points in 38 games with them? Of their 127 combined points, only 42 of them have come on the powerplay. I’m just confused.

  • Burnward

    Well gang…what a difference a year makes. There are two points of concern on the entire roster: a backup goalie and a struggling winger. Other than that, this is the most complete Flames team we have had in 30 years.

    First place by three in the division, 8 clear of the wild cards.

    We are in for plenty of fun in 2019 and we’ll beyond.

    To Ari, Ryan and the whole team here: your efforts continue to make this the best Flames site on the net. Thank you and may your holidays be filled with joy and love.

    To all you filthy animals that congregate here: keep the change!

    Merry Ho Ho Flames fam!

    • Game Thru Rose Colored Glasses

      It is very good to see that there is at least one other contributor here who as no need to borrow my shades! Thanks for the positive outburst and happy holidays to you as well.

      Now about that insensitive remark about the state of my hygiene. My owner took me for a wash and groom just this week to be ready for the holiday season … but perhaps you were referring to the human contributors!

  • Jobu

    Jobu will instantly forgive Neal if he starts doing SOMETHING, ANYTHING in a game.

    He doesn’t have to score. Even if he throws a hit or stands in the paint, digs a puck out from the corner, makes a pass, or even takes a pass. Right now he’s not doing any of those things.

    He is completely invisible and needs to find other ways to get in the game. Once he does this Jobu is sure the puck will start to go in for him too.

    Flames fans have been down this “freeloader” road already and are not ready for another. And the eye test (while likely not fair) shows 0 effort so far.

  • The Beej

    This brings up a good point. A month and a half a go I was an advocate for just gradually increasing Rittichs starts and giving Smith a chance to play out of it. Do we now think Smith has had enough of a chance? He consistently posts sub 900 performances and is costing the team points.

    You really need two goalies in this league. Your starter needs the odd night off and the backup needs to get you points. Probably time to trade for a goalie. Flames have been patient but what they have at this point is what they have.

    At least Smith has taken a good amount of starts that Rittich should not be overworked for the stretch run or the playoffs. But lets keep it that way and get another goalie that the guys can trust.

    One more point after seeing the DAL and STL games: bigger teams that can slow it down seem to have found a strategy that works against the Flames. Flames need to work on this type of game and find their own strategy to deal with it when teams slow the game down in the neutral zone. Edmonton, Dallas, St Louis have had success against Calgary with this style. Minnesota can play this way as well. There is a good chance we draw one of these teams in the first round. I would hate to see an upset. I am not saying the Flames need to change their system or style but they do need to be more careful and attentive to detail in their own zone and more patient in the neutral zone for starters.

    • calgaryfan

      Edmonton, Dallas games were the 3rd game in 4 nights. Yesterday against St. Louis they were on early vacation. Teams that play the trap style can cause all teams problems. The key is too score first and you are correct about playing better defensive hockey in all zones.

  • Alberta Ice

    One corollary consolation: The last 3 games for the Pacific division contenders were all bad. Oilers lose 3 games and get no points. Ducks lose 3 games and get no points. Flames lose 3 games and get one point. Sharks lose 3 games and get one point. Vegas did the best with 3 points out of 6 and thereby passed the Ducks. Literally, the only team we lost ground to by 2 points was the Knights. For the Flames, was this a good thing? Or a ‘putting to sleep’ thing?

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Smith has got to be relegated to the backup role, he looks like he’s jumping around, arms flailing, hoping the puck hits him. I don’t know about you, every shot and I mean every shot the opposition takes I think it’s going in the net. The players have to get demoralized when he let’s in a softie, especially when they’re trying to tie the game.

  • Hacker

    Time to run with Rittich. Smith continues to cost the team valuable points. It will be tough for the team to hang onto first place if Jankowski Bennett and Neal don’t start to contribute. Other than Hathaway the rest of the team are AHL’ers and are interchangable, shouldn’t be expecting any meaningful contribution from them, hence the focus on Neal, Jankowski and Benny. Put a monkey with Bing and Backlund and it likely wouldn’t hurt us too bad. IMO it’s on the 3rd line to truely get this team to the next level. That said…. Flames are still better than most teams in the west so hard to complain too much. Happy Holidays to all at Flames Nation.

    • Albertabeef

      Jankowski and Bennet are both on pace for proper modern depth(3rd and 4th lines) scoring. Hathaway has the lowest points per game of all forwards and gets hemmed in the d zone and gives up too many pucks. It’s one reason why his corsi stats are so bad. Maybe too much alky punch or rum n egger for you lol. Your perception filters are broken lol.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    Why are they starting Mike? Why goalies responsiblity to stop puck no netter how bad the give away is but no we have to start smith. Fine have it your way till next year. They probably sign a second string goalie that would be the same and BSD Would be back up. Instead of Neal going we are creating the issue that really is not an issue

  • oilcanboyd

    The last game before Christmas a bit of a downer. They have a bit of a break before getting on a jet plane for a big test against the Jets. Flames have done well against the top teams in the NHL so let’s keep it up!

  • oilcanboyd

    From his fight in game against Flames: Karma Matt Dumba is expected to undergo surgery next week to repair an upper-body injury and will be sidelined for a significant amount of time.

  • buts

    Entertaining year so far, the coaching has been great, style of play entertaining. That flyers game a few weeks ago was one of the best I’ve been too since we smoked the coilers in the 80’s….I can’t afford season tickets…..other than my biching of a few players I wish all of you FN and your families a very merry Christmas. GFG

  • Garry T

    Could we add one player of the following : Jacob Silfverberg from the Ducks,Kevin Hayes from the Rangers, Neiderreiter from Minny or Kappinen from Toronto. It would need to see Smith traded or put on Waivers to get rid of salary. It would need picking up a backup goalie. But if it could be done,
    Your 1st and 2nd lines would be dynamic. Your 3rd. Really upgraded and your 4th. A hell bent for leather crew. Comments?

    • Flamesforever

      No way we would be trading with a division rival. Kevin Hayes intrigues me as I know him and Johnny are pals, he’s a big strong forward that would do wonders in a playoff series when the physicality ramps up. I would absolutely love Kapanen or Niederreiter but I think that’s more of a pipe dream. What about Brayden Schenn from St Louis? I’m 100% against trading our first or even second round picks this year, we need to stock pile our prospect cupboards.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        The time to get Hayes has passed. He’s having a contract year and will get paid by NY or other team close to NY over $7m. We had the chance to sign him and he chose NY over a real team, just to stay east. No way I am trading anything for a UFA. He wants to sign here and we can afford it? Great.

        Schenn and Tarasenko should absolutely be targets. Either of those players would be welcome here, and yes I would trade a 1st for either of them. Other option is Backlund for Schenn. 1st and Bennett and Gillies for Tank.

      • Tkachuk'sLisp

        This is exactly why I think the Flames should just stand pat. If (a big if) Neal ever gets going, where is a guy like Hayes going to play? Bennett has played extremely well on the 2nd line and I don’t think Zebulon is coming off of that top line save for a period or so if they aren’t going.

        I think it’s best to play it out this season then really push next season. The Flames have a first this season then don’t pick until the 4th round and with a bunch of players graduating to the NHL this season, the cupboards need re-stocking.

  • Chucky

    Entering the Christmas break I am so much more content than last year, this team has a chance every night and while they have some guys that are over-performing they also have a bunch that are under-performing so if Lindholm’s shooting % drops a bit an Neal’s rebounds it looks like a wash and the same thing goes throughout the lineup. The other thing is that this seems to be a breakout season for a few, Tkachuk and Monahan certainly seem to elevated their game to another level ( hard to imagine but it may be maturity of Tkachuk and pretty sure it is that healed wrist thing for Monahan). Anyway it seems like there is a positive feeling around the team and around FN. I hope everyone has a great Christmas and our juniors make the Boxing Day a relaxing celebration.

  • Flamesforever

    I throw up in my mouth just a little bit every time I go on TSN. Planning the parade route they are. BARF. Can we just go back to the good old days when the Leafs were a bumbling mess of an organization. It was a simpler time. ??

  • freethe flames

    When I hear people talk about trades and not discussing the salary cap and our current lack of assets I begin to worry. I think this team is in the first year of a 5 year window to be a contender for the cup but a lot this year depends on things going very well.

    Let’s begin by discussing the Fab Four upfront, they have been great most nights but when the other team does a good job against them the offence struggles; heck it dries up completely. For this team to truly be a contender someone has to step up their offensive output. The veterans who have not pulled their weight offensively are Neal (and I have not seen any indication that this will change) and Backlund who is a solid two way guy but IMO is better used as a shutdown guy rather than the secondary scoring center. The young guys who have not raised their game this year are Janko and Bennett both of whom show promise on certain nights and the disappear offensively on other nights; I said at the start of the year that I thought this team will go as far as this guys progress and I still stand by this. The Fab four upfront will carry this team along way but until others start contributing more this team will only go so far. We could also talk about both Ryan and Czarnik who have both added depth as RHS but neither have added significantly offensively. The verdict here is that if we could add an upgrade offensively upfront w/o paying too high of a price would be okay with this.

    On D this unit led by the Dynamoc Duo of Gio(superman) and Brodie(robin) has shown significant improvement this year and if Valimaki and Stone both get healthy and return to form have the depth to go deep into the playoffs. If Prout is your 9th defender I think you have a legitimate depth. Andersson and Kylington have been positive additions and I think both have only began to show their offensive side. I would love to see Andersson on the 2nd PP unit.

    In net BSD has been a great story and seems to have taken the #1 job from BGM(bad goal mike) but I am worried if something happens to him. I look at teams around the NHL and wonder if there is a 3rd string goalie out there that is an upgrade over our back up and and AHL alternatives.

    I would be very reluctant to trade our first rounder for a rental player as this is just our first year of our window; but if the player had another year on their contract and could fit into our core as a longer term supportive piece I would then consider it.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    With all due respect to people stating that it was a Xmas break game . We started Mike Smith that’s a 50% loss. No matrer Xmas break or not its 2 points yes we are on top of division why can’t we improve on that? Why we are starting Smith why we are nailing the game. It’s just unprofessional in my humble opinion.