Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Capitals 4, Flames 3 post-game embers: From the jaws of… overtime?

Hockey? What’s that? It’s a game that is actually physically played by athletes known as hockey players, some of whom reside in and play for Calgary? Sounds fake.

Feel of the game

The Flames, overall, weren’t too bad, considering they were coming off of nine straight days without a game played – minding, though, that the same was true for their opponents (okay, the Capitals had eight days between contests). When the problems hit, though, they were glaring: the Flames had sloppy defensive zone play while the Capitals appeared to have a tighter game (especially as they were trying to maintain a one-goal lead), their powerplay was pointless, and Mike Smith wasn’t good enough to overcome his team’s deficits.

Giveaways when playing the puck, a failure to swallow it within his own crease, and just surrendering plainly bad goals were a part of it. The Flames did their best to retaliate – although it took them some time to figure out how (turns out actually trying to shoot the puck on net is a big help, as evidenced by their second and third goals) – and ultimately, it looked like things were destined for overtime.

Until Mikael Backlund, he who scored a possible goal of the year candidate with excellent individual effort and a Forsberg-style finish, took a penalty in the game’s final two minutes, and the work the top line did to get things tied back up in the third period was promptly erased: about as underwhelming a finish as possible.

The good news

Backlund’s goal really was phenomenal though. He also did score the overtime winner against the Hurricanes in their previous game, and shone against the Oilers the game before that, so at least it’s a reminder that secondary scoring isn’t dead with this group.

Speaking of secondary scoring, James Neal. Prior to the break, he was moved up to play alongside Backlund and Michael Frolik; in their first game back from the break, he was reunited with Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski. And he had a couple of absolutely amazing scoring chances that could have helped the Flames win, but for Braden Holtby being on his game and a goal post. I’ve been a fan of the Neal signing all along, and it looks like it’s starting to come through. Neal is doing the things he needs to in order to score goals – they just aren’t going in. This is not, and never has been, a Troy Brouwer situation. He’s still just over seven points below his career shooting percentage. The Flames have the luxury of being able to be patient with him this season, but he’s giving plenty of reason to believe he can be a contributor – it just has to start happening. Gut feeling, but these last 30 games of the regular season might be huge for him.

TJ Brodie had a great game, both on the offensive and defensive side of things. He created the Flames’ second goal just by actually shooting the puck, and he seemed more inclined to shoot overall; he also did a great job of standing up to the Caps’ forwards. Usually it’s Mark Giordano stealing the show for that pairing – and rightfully so, because he’s the better player – but Brodie had a really good night.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: it’s so nice to watch a fourth line that actually plays hockey.

The bad news

The Flames were sloppy in their own end and too cutesy when trying to score, especially at the start of the game. It’s a bad combination that leads to goals against with limited goals for. Basically, the Flames did just enough to shoot themselves in the foot. I think some anger at the officiating is warranted – to not call interference on Matt Niskanen on Matthew Tkachuk in the first period was egregious, and three straight penalties on the Flames in the second while the Capitals could seemingly do no wrong until the third was nonsensical – but the Flames really could have won this one with tighter play on their end.

And, because he’s a story most of the time he ends up playing, therein lies the problem with dressing Smith nowadays: he just doesn’t give the Flames a chance to win games like David Rittich does. That’s not to say it’s a guaranteed win with Rittich, but the Flames aren’t good enough to overcome their defensive miscues, their overpassing, and Smith’s failings all at the same time. He had his genuinely great moments, but they get overshadowed by soft goals against. And pointing to his win record – or any goalie’s, really – means nothing. The Flames are a high-scoring team; they’re capable of overcoming deficits (their 6-5 win over the Avalanche back on Nov. 1 is probably a prime example of this: they were down 4-1, Smith got the win but it’s not like he did much to help them, they just scored their way out of trouble). On the nights they can’t score enough, those soft goals against really hurt.

A rant, but every time I hear about how Smith’s puckhandling helps I want to scream. It’s confusing two separate notions, and assuming that because Smith handles the puck a lot means he handles it well. No, he just handles it a lot. And whatever benefit the team may get out of it gets neutralized in instances like the Capitals’ first goal. Also, seeing him come out to handle it with the Flames on the penalty kill in the final two minutes of a tied game with a Caps player right there just screamed poor decision-making all around. Just. Let the skaters do their jobs.

Hopefully Travis Hamonic’s injury isn’t serious, because losing him for an extended period of time would be a major blow. Fortunately, the Flames are in a position in which they can afford to not have him in the lineup, but having such an important player get hurt multiple times in a season is a little nervewracking. I’d imagine this would spur them on a little further to trade for another defenceman.

I understand the game got chippy at the end, but I don’t understand the calls for more toughness in the lineup. Unless the hypothetical toughness comes in the form of someone offensively talented, what’s he going to do? Yeah, Johnny Gaudreau got cheapshotted at the end of the game and the entire thing devolved into a mess; it was a tight defensive situation for the Capitals, they’re seriously not going to care about any potential repercussions from any bodyguard when they can get two points. And said hypothetical bodyguard wouldn’t be on the ice anyway in that scenario, because he’s not going to help the Flames score. Unless you want to return to the time when Bob Hartley actually played Brandon Bollig on Gaudreau’s line. It’s nice having a functional fourth line; let’s keep it that way. Hopefully they improve on it by trading for more forwards who can help score and defend, not just a blind call for toughness. It wouldn’t have helped in this game and it won’t help in future games.

Numbers of note

57.41% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. It drops all the way down to 52.94% when you look at all situations. The Flames were good enough to hang in there, but they  weren’t good enough to overcome their own faulty powerplay.

2 – Brodie was the only multi-point player for the Flames. And really – Giordano’s two penalties aside – the Flames’ top pairing had the best go of things. They didn’t have to face Alex Ovechkin, but they did have to face a lot of the Caps’ best in John Carlson, TJ Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom; they did a great job.

27:20 – Seriously, Brodie had to step up, and he did. This was the most he’s played this season.

20:43 – Hamonic’s injury meant he only played 10:33, so up stepped Rasmus Andersson, with 20:43, including both powerplay and penalty kill time. It’s the third most he’s played all season. It’s so much fun watching rookies grow like this.

13:47 – Oliver Kylington, meanwhile, did not get as much ice time.

4:46 – Mark Jankowski led all Flames in shorthanded ice time (though, if Giordano hadn’t been the one taking the penalties and Hamonic hadn’t been injured, they likely would have played more than him). Changing of the shorthanded guard? It jumped him up to fifth in overall Flames ice time, more than someone like Tkachuk, which is probably more a commentary on the penalties the Flames had to kill and the ones they didn’t get a call on than anything else.

Final thought

The last time the Flames faced the Capitals, they were coming off of a brutal 9-1 loss to the Penguins. They lost in a shootout, but because they actually looked halfway competent, it was a step forward – and the ensuing four-game winning streak helped with that.

This time, the Flames once again looked halfway competent, but the stakes have changed: their expectations are much, much higher now than they were back in late October. Let’s hope they can keep matching them. There are 10 games remaining until the trade deadline, and a number of tough opponents along the way to gauge just how they really match up.

  • The GREAT WW

    If there was any doubt before this game that the Flames need an enforcer (Ross Johnston…), that doubt should be gone now……

    And I’m not even talking about the beat down at the end of the game; we got roughed up all game.


  • SouthernFlame

    I almost want BT to trade Smith just so people on here will stop ranting and complaining on how bad he is and how he is not good enough for the playoffs. Then when we pick up the next backup goalie we can hear all the same comments about him and how the sky is falling. If I was Ras last night I would have pinched that puck in the last seconds of the game coming into the zone. He was close enough to swat at it and pop it out of the zone instead he changed his mind last second. And like WW said that game is mainly on Backlund’s penalty.

  • Orrwasbest

    Came down to the Caps wanting it more then the Flames. When the going gets tough this time of year are the Flames going to respond or fold like a rented Mule. Lets see some desperation in your play boys!

  • Luter 1

    Now finally people are waking up to the fact that the ice-capades wouldn’t last all year. No different than any other year, after the all star break the game get physical and the refs put the whistle away. As I stressed before the season even started a Ryan Reaves versus a James Neal would have been a much better fit for this team. How much different would yesterday’s game look switching them two out? Ari give it up with your love affair with Neal, the guy is a lazy slug that absolutely kills the forecheck and momentum of any line he plays on, he just refuses to skate or hit, I don’t get it? His one supposed ability – scoring has dried up so he is basically a passenger on a pretty fast team. If one more person says he brings nastiness or is hard to play against (Ari?), I’m going to throw-up, he is one of the softest players in the league because he is barely moving most time.

  • freethe flames

    I missed the game live last night but just watched it this morning; a couple of comments. My biggest concern from the night is the Hamonic injury; this concerns me greatly. I fully expect Valimaki to be recalled today and I expect BT to make a trade; if he does not make a trade it would suggest that Stone may be close to returning.

    Yes James Neal had two scoring opportunities but other than that he was a passenger all night. Prior to the break he had a couple of games where he was skating and contributing in different ways last night not so much.

    I thought Tkachuk was more interested in trying to get calls than playing hockey last night and I think the refs have decided to put the whistle away around him unless it is really obvious and on a scoring chance. In the first period when he got taken on what was an obvious interference call that he did not get I think he lost focus. On the play on the third goal for the Caps twice he had a chance to clear it(one time really early) and then the turn over. He needs to just play.

    Smith despite giving up a questionable goal actually gave them a chance to win because he did not give up the next one.

    Johnny was only average last night and the game had a playoff feel to it and he needs to battle through the chippyness of that kind of game. He and Monny need to be better in this kind of war if the Flames want to go deep.

    Despite all my complaining I actually thought there were some good things so I’m not concerned about the overall effort. My concern is with Hamonic’s injury. I worry we might have to see to much Prout for a while. Ari’s cocnern over Kylington’s minutes is interesting; he get’s short changed because he does not play on either special teams unit but late in the game he was playing his offside with Hanifin.

  • MDG1600

    Biggest concern for me is how poorly the 3rd line played. We need more to compete in the playoffs. To me we have the three most frustrating and inconsistent players on the team all on the same line. Neal has been beat to death on FN but his lack of commitment to plan old hard work and helping the team win ( “I’m a big deal so I can wait till the playoffs to start working hard….”) is driving me crazy. I can see why Neal never stays long on a team before he is traded or not re-signed.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I see it a different way. The third line generated more quality chances than any other line. Both Janko and Neal hit posts while Bennett and Neal had other grade a chances.

  • Flaymin Frank

    We start our back up goalie against the SC Champs & then our starter gets the nod against a team outside of the playoff cutline??? No offense Hurricane fans. If this is a riddle then I’ll be the first to say “I give up”. I hope BT or Uncle Bill knows the answer. I truly hope it was an effort to inflate his stock value as we approach the TDL. Apparently Neal has a nice touch when he’s around the net. But the rest of his game is simply painful to watch.

  • snotss

    some poor turn overs in our own end …some poor goal tending again…some lazy penalties…lack of team toughness.. “ya’ they all had a hand in this rusty affair…ari your take on the flames toughness is wrong…we don’t have any of it now and it is so obvious………if we enter the playoffs with out any up grades we will get our asses handed to us…meaning a another first round exit

  • imthedude63

    Just saw third period. Was surprised to see Smith in net when your number one is BSD. Not sure what the rationale was for starting Smith.

    The team fought back in the third and stood up for themselves at the end. Even when not playing their best they play with spirit. Looked like Backstrom should have been called for diving IMHO

    • Vernon30

      Totally surprised Smith got the start. Trying to “showcase” him to move him? Good luck. Maybe BSD hurt himself in Hawaii on the break? I would have played him in Wash, and Smith in CAR, if a split was warranted.

  • buts

    That game still has me PO’d. Why isn’t your number 1 goalie playing after a 9 day layoff against the defending cup champs? Yes Backlund took another boneheaded penalty but this game was on Smith or more importantly on BP for kissing smiths ass. Does Smith pout if not happy? Why does Rittich get the short stick by this organization? Even last year they chose Gillies and sent Rittich down, signed Gillies to a one way in the 2 nd year of his contract where Rittich was a 2 way deal. Smith has cost us 12 points in the standings this year by my take, we would be first overall with average performances by him. Lastly Hamonics injury could be a blessing as we not only need some depth it’s very obvious that when the refs tuck there whistles away we need toughness. I never thought I’d say this but bieksa wouldn’t cost much and he would help on the 3 rd pairing and with team toughness. On the front end I’m not sure who other than Reaves could play while adding toughness. Wasted 2 points and insurance is needed as stocktons goalies are not ready if ever. If Rittich goes down we are screwed.

    • Weirddave

      “Why isn’t your number 1 goalie playing after a 9 day layoff against the defending cup champs?”

      Exactly the question I had when I got there last night. Only game I get to see in person all year, I want to see BSD!

    • Jimmyhaggis

      Yes it’s frustrating, is it we don’t see the talented Smith, come on BT, I’ve said this since the June draft, our goaltending is going to cost us. Ride Rittich.

    • MDG1600

      The answer to all your questions about goaltending is that the Flames as an organization have virtually zero capacity to evaluate and develop goalies. Look at WW post above showing all the goalies the Flames drafted since 1990. I think BSD is great but I honestly think the Flames have been more lucky than good with him since it is pretty clear they thought Gillies was there goalie of the future. Sigalet needs to go and they need to add a really good goalie scout.

    • slapshot444

      Re Goalie, With the next weeks travel schedule the first two games are against teams that are 2-5-2 ( Caps) and 6-3-1 ( Hurricanes. Considering the Caps had lost 6 straight and no Ovi you give Smith the “easy one”. Predictably he flopped around overplayed the puck. Yes he battled hard but in your heart you have to realize he’s out of gas at the end of a great career. It’s got to be the number one priority for Tre and I’m sure he knows it. It’s just not so easy to solve. You need a back up better than Smith and you don’t want to give the farm to get it. Its really an offseason fix. We have our our eggs in the BSD basket for this year. Really Monny needs to not take nights off and Neal needs to play with intensity, that alone might take us to the finals.

    • Bucky 1989


      I totally agree but have a thought here. If we all step back and look at the situation logically, my bet is that sometime over the break, BT and Peters sat down and said; “Okay what is the number one insurance policy we need to potentially address before the deadline?” My bet it was goaltending and defence, likely in that order. ( we could debate defence versus another scoring forward but I won’t go there now) So they said, the only way to address this is to put Smith in and see if he can win the team a couple of games over the next two weeks. Last night he did not play too badly but still looks like he’s lost his confidence and as a pro needs to find a way through this now or he’s done. We know what we have in Rittich and that’s not the problem. Smith is on a very short leash in my view and if he makes that save on Kudnesov with a minute to go and we go to OT, we may not be having this conversation. Thats been the problem all year is he plays well but not well enough to really steal a game like Rittich has done. This is why I still think BT is trying to work a deal for Howard. He never wants to bring in a rental and their has been plenty of chemistry damage done up front by doing this in the past. But at Goaltending, I think you can and I think he will. If he does not, I like you agree, Rittich goes down and we are pooched.

      • buts

        I agree with your assessment Bucky……how many samples of Smiths bad play does management need? The AHL has some goalies that we could put in Stockton yet play better than Smith if needed. Its all insurance and with the playoffs looming its needed.

  • Korcan

    Though I’m no fan of Smith’s overall game this season, it is simply a force of habit (and a bit lazy) to put the blame for the loss on him.

    Sure he turned the puck over for their first goal, but it was not nearly as bad as Tkachuk’s turnover leading to the Wilson goal. None of the goals were weak goals like Smith has allowed in past games. Even the game winner, though on the weak side, was a great shot, in close, from a highly skilled player — i don’t think too many goalies would have stopped that.

    IMO, this was the most composed Smith has looked in net in quite some time and i am starting to feel hopeful that his game may still come around in time to keep Tre from having to sacrifice future assets for a third goaltender.

  • Retire#14

    Well said about Smith Ari! I couldnt agree more! The Flames do not play with the same swagger when RedLight is in net as they do when BSD is. Smith deflates the team with his baby excrement goals (meaning soft). Cannot wait for the playoffs so we dont have to see RedLight play again.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Janko likely has 10 more points if he did not have the Schleprock brothers as linemates. It is both bizarre and humerous. I have no problem with Smith’s overall play, but I have a big problem with the timing of the goals. Rittich does a great job of not giving up the first goal. He keeps the team in the game so they find their game. Rittich does an even better job of not giving up the tieing goal….that is huge. Smith has a propensity to give up long range shots that are tipped because he is too far back in his net and not tight on the player tipping the puck. It is pretty obvious that when a keeper is tighter to the player the tipped pucks have less chances to find the holes.

  • buts

    Smith rims the puck when there was no need to even come out and play it, dives to stop a shot at the open net, kaos ensues, pucks in the net. Byng loses the puck Smith is sleeping and to deep in his net….goal. 2 goals that should have not happened…it’s the difference between winning and losing.

  • benfr

    A number of contributors. Even though Tkachuk ( I love the guy) had a turn over trying to skate a puck out which led to a goal. Did you even see that. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the term objectivity as you don’t seem familiar with it. Just stop alerady!

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      I love Byng but there is one HUGE hole in his game and that is clearing the defensive zone. All season long he has been giving it away at the flames blue line. I cant even count the number of times he’s done it off the left wall. He’s an absolute gem other than that, and the giveaway last night was just bad luck.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Officiating has seemingly been terrible game and out this entire season. By my eye it’s league wide. It’s adversity the Flames will have to work till their season ends.
    Last night wasn’t about missed calls and incompetent referees, it was and is about what the NHL wants. “Letting them play” (or more honestly said, letting them cheat) makes for less certainty in game outcomes. Less certainty about game outcomes provide an illusion about parity in the game, and the NHL loves parity (or as they call it, compettive balance). Changing the scales of balance does not bother the league managers.
    In the end, skill generally wins out, but even skill can’t always overcome a tilted ice. This leads fans and teams are to hope that the ice will be tilted more favourably than less.
    This is the game the NHL has brought us, and it’s not changing anytime soon.

    • freethe flames

      The ref’s let this game feel like a playoff game and player’s need to adjust. Yes the ref’s were bad; the most flagrant miss was the interference in the first.

      • Phockey

        I agree the ref’s let everything go initially just like a playoff game and yes the Flames will have to find inner roster toughness and deal with that change as the next season is coming quickly. If the F&*^ing zebras were at least consistent for an entire game or even a period it would be helpful. The Caps got warnings from the ref like “careful if you take his head off this time we won’t be able to let you off with another warning next game” Then for the Flames the calls they made in rapid succession were a joke. Invisible hand – Parity. Viola

        • freethe flames

          Both the Back’s and Hathaway penalties were penalties in most other games this year but the way the ref’s were making other calls or not making calls is a better way to describe it they should have let go.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Jon Gillies is Stockton’s Mike Smith…. except Smith wins a game every once in awhile.

    Gillies gives up 4 on 17 shots (.765 SV%) while Parsons allows 2 on 22 (.909) and gets saddled with the loss.

    As frustrated as you are with Smith, come to Stockton and take in a season of Gillies: you will be begging for Smith.

  • oilcanboyd

    In a tweet by Darren Haynes before the game “Rittich just stopped 33 of 35 to beat Carolina 10 days ago. Smith is 3-1-1 with a .947 SV% in his last five starts against Washington.”
    The last game against the Canes was an afternoon game to boot and so is Sunday’s game. BSD will also be in the nets against San Jose. Got to have both goalies fresh and ready to go. BSD can’t play every game. Smith’s sv% was 0.900 despite the 4 goals….

  • Schmenkley

    I can understand all the grief over Smith from last night, but he wasn’t alone. That first goal is a prime indicator of horrendous play in the defensive zone, predominantly by Hamonic.
    Love him in the lineup when he is on, but last night he was off from the outset; half a step behind and reactive.
    Smith rims the puck around the boards and Hamonic watches it go by to the point. Smith makes the save, puck goes to the corner to Hammer, pressured by two Caps players.
    Instead of eating it, Hammer sends a soooooft clearing attempt up the middle, right by Hathaway and Ryan, who appear to be wondering what they are supposed to do with that little round black thing.
    All this time, Mangiapane is skating in circles by himself on the opposite side of the ice in the face off circle instead of pressuring the point.
    BRUTAL d-zone effort all around, not ALL because Smith went out to play the puck. He owns some of the outcome, but not all of it.

  • BendingCorners

    The Flames are usually a bit sloppy defensively. Last night it cost them two points. Smith was not great and hopefully only plays 5-10 more games against easy opponents. If the rest of you are correct and more teams will play a tougher style going forward then the Flames will have to adjust to that. It might be a rough few weeks while they do.

  • thepharmacist

    We all agree. It was a head scratcher that the backup got the start last night. After the Allstar break, all the games played are essential. If the Flames want to have a serious run for the Stanley Cup , they need to stay a head of SJ and Vegas in the standings and try to secure home ice advantage for the playoffs. BSD gives them the best chance to win. Smith is just not good enough. I need another long post to point out all the goaltending flaws he has exhibited all year and at this point he has not shown me that he has corrected any of them. He is just not good enough for the NHL now, and Treliving has a real problem to fix for the backup position. Yes, I get it. He has experience, is a competitor and is probably good in the dressing room, however he should not play unless BSD absolutely needs the rest. He is not being showcased because he is at the end of his career and no other team will want to trade for him. Poor guy is exposing himself to negativity and embarrassment every time he starts. The Flames typically have to score 5 goals to win when he plays. Last night exemptified that. Although he didn’t let in an atrocious goal like he usually does and he did have some good saves, he didn’t make a big save (unlike BSD does). His big saves look more difficult than should have. My prescription : Please play BSD as a starter should be played for the balance of the season and throughout the playoffs!! End the Smith experiment, and play him only if absolutely necessary. I honestly don’t have a prescription to correct the backup position unless the Treliving does another brilliant deal that doesn’t impact the future.

  • Chucky

    Why start Smith? Because the Capitals were on a losing streak with their main offensive weapon was sidelined. Because he was well rested and going against a struggling team gave him the best chance to succeed. Because if he can’t succeed with the deck stacked in his favour then Treliving needs to find a replacement and it is best to find out right now.
    There are only two questions
    Is Parsons ready for the backup role or do they have to go outside the organization?
    Will parsons be ready to take the backup role next year so a rental will do or does he need next year as well? Probably the only guy we would trust to answer those questions is Mr Finest

    • slapshot444

      No way Parsons get NHL pressure this year, if you know the story you know why. Goalies don’t continue to develop as a back up so likely one more year in Stockton then then we see what he has in pre season 2020. I’m hoping we trade at deadline for a 2 year back up rental.