Sometimes the game just goes against you. Usually it isn’t to the extent of a team’s final three shots all going in, though. The Sabres probably couldn’t repeat that even if they tried.
Feel of the game
Though both teams got chances to start the game, the Sabres were probably the better team of the two. It felt lucky that the Flames were able to exit the first period with a lead, the result of Mark Giordano refusing to let the clock run out and one of the timeliest goals Johnny Gaudreau has ever scored.
The Flames responded for the second period, though, largely controlling the start and almost gaining a multi-goal lead out of it. They were even closer when Gaudreau was dancing around everybody, only for the Flames to lose the puck and give up a breakaway goal, and suddenly, the game turned into one in which neither team would quite go away.
With the way the Flames had been playing in the second carrying into the third, though, it felt as though it was the Flames’ game to lose when Matthew Tkachuk restored the lead. The Sabres scoring soon after allowed the spectre of overtime to descend on the arena, one that was shattered when they took their first lead of the game – and restored when Noah Hanifin got things tied back up soon after that. Thereafter, it was all Linus Ullmark denying the Flames with desperation saves, David Rittich having very little to do, and just a kind of hollow result in getting the game to overtime: really? That’s all the Flames could manage?
Jack Eichel getting that much time and space speaks for itself, but at least this time it wasn’t a goal off of trying to have a winger win three straight faceoffs on the penalty kill. That made it sting a whole lot less.
The good news
If there’s one bit of positive reinforcement this game can bring for the Flames, it’s that you play until the whistle and/or buzzer. Giordano very easily could have just killed time off of the clock at the end of the first period when the puck was cleared from the offensive zone. He shot the puck back up in there, though, and the Flames got a goal out of it. The immediate gratification of knowing you made the right call has to feel good – and it’s a sign that it makes no sense to give up on any play, no matter what the clock says.
Gaudreau only had a two-point night (only!), but his skills with the puck on a string were on full display once again. It’s just absurd what he can do, and the sheer tenacity he has to match his abilities. Throw in all of the goals he’s scoring for someone not exactly known as a shooter, and the Flames have an absolute gem on offence. We already knew that – but getting to see it on full display, pretty much every game? We’re spoiled. (To counter that, and to line up with recent themes: how amazing would it have been to see Gaudreau and Jarome Iginla play together? If only. Maybe an alumni game much further down the road can give us that.)
This is going purely by the eye test, but Noah Hanifin looks like he’s been having some better games as of late. Him with Rasmus Andersson is an interesting pairing (and I recall that duo being an absolute beast at keeping the puck in the zone in an earlier game against the Oilers). He stepped up in a big way offensively with his goal – one of those posts that finally went in – and seemed to have a couple of strong defensive plays I don’t think he quite had down in prior games.
The bad news
The Sabres scoring three goals on their final three shots of the game – the only shots they took through the third period and overtime, at that – is… bad. It’s also partly just pure dumb luck the Flames were on the wrong end of, and it isn’t something that’s likely to happen again, but that it happened at all has to be demoralizing. Rittich had to be better, but at the same time, the goals against were the result of an uncharacteristic Elias Lindholm giveaway and an unfortunate deflection off of Michael Frolik’s stick. The Sabres probably wouldn’t be able to recreate those conditions if they tried. But if it boosts spirits to know that keeping the play going at the end of the first period resulted in a goal, I’m not quite sure what it does to know that the loss came from some of the flukiest moments possible. Split-second decisions resulting in defensive lapses were key contributors to the loss. They’re going to happen, but to the extent they did in this game was just awful.
Brief comment on questionable refereeing: nothing as egregious as not understanding when to blow the play dead for a powerplay, but not calling infractions the Sabres were committing on the Flames as the game wound down wasn’t a great look. Tkachuk was right to be angry at the end of regulation; it’s tough to see how the Flames could have played with that. They were controlling play through the third – the team that controls plays tends to force the other team into taking penalties through that. That only works if those penalties are actually called. And the Flames had a pretty good powerplay on the night; it could’ve been the difference.
Numbers of note
57.78% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They had really, really good second and third periods.
21-3 – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi events compared to the Sabres’ in the third period alone. Buffalo only had two shots on net that entire period. Both went in. They only had one extra corsi event at 5v5. That’s just… yikes.
4 – Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Mark Jankowski led the way for the Flames with four shots on net each.
9 – Gaudreau’s current point streak, during which he’s scored 20 points. Just four players have 70+ points so far this season; he’s tied for second place with 71.
359 in 360 – It’s not a matter of if Gaudreau will be a career point-per-game player at this stage of his career, it’s a matter of when. He was that close to hitting it in game 360 in overtime. I’m especially curious to see how long he’ll be able to keep it up. There are only five players in the NHL presently who are career point-per-game guys, minimum 500 points scored – maybe Gaudreau will one day join that list?
12:39 – Maybe something to watch out for, but Oliver Kylington only got 12:39 in ice time, compared to Dalton Prout’s 16:14 (13:18 when you take away special teams time). Not that Travis Hamonic’s return (whenever it is – hopefully soon, for the sakes of all involved) is likely to mean Kylington would sit for Prout, but thinking more along the line of just which defencemen the Flames might be targeting to bolster their depth by the trade deadline.
Well, that was a weird way to lose a game. It’s fine, though – the Flames may have fared better with Hamonic’s services, but they still did alright against a decent opponent with a shorthanded roster. And got a point out of it. And it’s not like they’re competing with an eastern team for any kind of playoff spot, so it’s not the worst opponent they could have lost to. They were going to lose at some point; hopefully next outing will be better.