Playing a good team on the second of a back-to-back can result in a loss, but the Flames were in it right until the end. It doesn’t count for much – literally – but it maybe should count for something figuratively.
Feel of the game
While the Flames had a slow start against the Red Wings, they traded chances with the Bruins early on, and even came away with the first goal of the game: yet another shorthanded marker that Mark Jankowski helped create. That could have been demoralizing for a team – you come away from a 1:55 five-on-three down a goal? – but the Bruins quickly retaliated, and the Flames didn’t hold a lead the rest of the night.
Sure, they had their sloppy moments; they (well, mostly Johnny Gaudreau) had their inspired moments, as well. It’s just that Jaroslav Halak made some stops, while Mike Smith not only let in brutal goals, but the worst ones were always at the least opportune times: taking the wind out of a great penalty kill. Giving the lead up mere seconds after the game was tied. Letting in an absolute backbreaker just as the rest of the Flames were fighting back.
It was that fifth goal against that was truly the death knell, though the Flames didn’t even quit after that, one last goal by Mikael Backlund to draw the Flames back within one giving some hope. That should have been enough to at least send the game to overtime. It wasn’t. Because the goals that absolutely could not go in went in, and finally, the Flames had to concede to a loss when the empty netter went against them.
The good news
At least we’ll always have Gaudreau, right? He’s always been offensively talented, but with every passing game it seems as though he’s reaching a new level. He wants to score and he’s going to keep doing everything in his power to do just that. He’s thrilling to watch, even when he can’t get the puck to go in the net. But it’s going in a lot these days.
The penalty kill didn’t have the greatest of nights, but Jankowski has been a seriously aggressive penalty killer since preseason, and it’s really paying off for him.
Michael Frolik continues to look pretty good since being a healthy scratch. Hopefully he’ll continue to justify his place in the lineup, because there’s no possible way there are 12 forwards better than him on this team, and he deserves to keep getting a regular shift. (The not good news part of this is that it appears he has to keep working for this, though.)
The cards were stacked against the Flames winning this one and they still created a fighting chance for it, right up until the final couple of minutes. It isn’t always going to work out, but at least the defeatist Flames of 2017-18 aren’t back.
The bad news
The powerplay had a brutal night, often times having to fight to keep chances from going in their own net, let alone trying to actually score. Combine that with the Bruins actually scoring two powerplay goals of their own and it wasn’t a banner night for the Flames’ special teams at all, shorthanded goal aside. The powerplay was a key factor in them losing the game.
A lot of the skaters didn’t look sharp, frankly – sloppy play, an inability to keep up in the defensive zone, an inability to get the edge over a Bruins player on net-front goals, the Calgary Flames edition of James Neal – and I’m sure some of that you can pin on fatigue, but when Gaudreau is playing over 20 minutes on the second of a back-to-back and looks amazing out there, what’s everyone else’s excuse?
Smith. Just, Smith. I think he deserves a bit of a pass for this one – playing a 36-year-old goalie two days in a row probably isn’t a great recipe for success, even if said goalie was still at the top of his game – but when you can look at at least three of five goals that went against him and say, “That’s 100% on you,” you’re having an atrocious night. And this isn’t an anomaly. The anomalies are the games like the one against the Red Wings, in which he didn’t stop everything, but was just good enough to help his team win. There’s no fix for him. It’s over. You can say it’s easy to say in hindsight the Flames should have started Jon Gillies but it being the second of a back-to-back alone dictated that well in advance. Sure, Gillies has been having a tough season of his own, but at least there’s some hope for him. There isn’t any for Smith.
Numbers of note
66.29% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They had an 80.56% third period. They wanted this. They tried to get it. Their goalie didn’t let them.
0.808% – Smith’s save percentage on the night. He’s at 0.886% on the season. This was his 13th game – out of 23 – in which he had a save percentage under 0.900%, and that’s an extremely low bar. Same old, same old.
7 – The number of shorthanded points Jankowski has this year, which leads the NHL (as does the Flames’ 13 shorthanded goals). He has 17 points this season.
61 – The worst raw totals of Gaudreau’s career was a 61-point season (in 72 games) in 2016-17. After Thursday night, he’s at 61 points in 42 games. He’s one of five NHLers who have 60 points so far this season. He’s seriously just on another level right now. He’s on pace for 119 points: a number he likely will not actually reach, but he sure looks likely to pass his career high of 84.
23 – Gaudreau has also overtaken Sean Monahan for the team lead in goals with 23. His career high is 30; seems likely he’ll pass that, as well, though maybe not quite at the 45 he’s currently on pace for.
10:45 – Garnet Hathaway saw the least amount of ice for the Flames, about 10 fewer minutes than Gaudreau had with the most. Pretty even spread. Oliver Kylington played the least among the defencemen with 12:24, but things have been pretty consistent with he and Rasmus Andersson getting about 11-13 minutes a night, while the top four hovers around 20-22 (or 25 minutes, in Mark Giordano’s case on occasion/special teams-heavy games).
The good thing is the source for the loss is pretty obvious: most of the blame falls on Smith. The rest of the team, overall, is doing alright; there are still improvements that could be made, and those may very well come at the trade deadline. The bad news is it’s tough to figure out how the team improves on Smith without running David Rittich into the ground, or if it’ll even be possible to begin with.