The Calgary Flames are running out of time to get their game together
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike15 days ago
On Feb. 22, the Calgary Flames headed to Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona to face the Arizona Coyotes. The game was the start of a pivotal three game road trip that had the potential to right their season. The Flames had a tremendous performance, rallying back from some tough bounces to win by a 6-3 score.
They haven’t won since.
What’s followed that seeming turnaround performance have been five games, all losses, that have been representative of what’s ailed the club so far this season. In short? Through 63 games, they haven’t managed to get their entire game going at once.
Let’s take a glance at the ongoing five-game losing skid to show some examples.
Feb. 23: 4-3 overtime loss to Vegas
The Flames played an excellent first 40 minutes, with timely scoring and good goaltending from Dan Vladar – playing his second game in as many nights. They led 3-1 through two periods, but the wheels seemed to fall off in the third period.
Vladar gave up a (questionable) short-side goal 5:08 into the third period and they were out-shot 9-1 by Vegas in the period, letting their two-goal lead evaporate. Alex Pietrangelo scored 48 seconds into overtime to complete the Golden Knights’ comeback. A combination of a tough early goal allowed, some shaky defensive play and the Flames’ game lacking energy in the third period cost them a regulation win.
Feb. 25: 4-1 loss to Colorado
In Vegas, the culprit was a bad third period. In Denver two nights later, it was a bad start that sunk ’em. Jacob Markstrom allowed goals on the first two shots he faced, and then the Avalanche turned on cruise control for the rest of the game.
The Flames managed a little bit of push-back, but the Avalanche effectively controlled play once they got the lead.
Feb. 28: 4-3 overtime loss to Boston
Returning home, the Flames faced a Boston team that had played the night before in Edmonton. Sure, they had favourable circumstances, but the Flames were all over the Bruins for the duration of the game. Vladar wasn’t great early in the game, and was replaced by Markstrom in relief, but the Flames battled back and spotted themselves a lead.
Why did they lose? A frustrating combination of an inability to bury their chances against Linus Ullmark and some poorly-timed defensive miscues. Nikita Zadorov opted to blow up Jake DeBrusk with a big hit on a penalty kill, and the Flames’ defensive coverage was momentarily blown to bits as Zadorov took Andrew Mangiapane out of the play and the two Flames skaters left standing weren’t quite sure who to cover.
Mar. 2: 2-1 loss to Toronto
The good news: Markstrom was in net, and was excellent, giving the Flames perhaps their best goaltending performance of the season.
The bad news: the Flames completely lacked offensive spark, and defensively they had zero answer for Mitch Marner. The Leafs’ stars were markedly better than the Flames’ stars, and that was the difference.
Mar. 4: 3-0 loss to Minnesota
Again, Markstrom was in net and gave his team a chance to win – he basically had zero chance on the three goals he allowed. Unfortunately for Markstrom, the skaters in front of him lacked spark, finesse or poise, and were shut out by the visiting Wild.
Over the past five games, and arguably the entirety of the season, the Flames as a group have been like someone frantically trying to plug holes in a dam: once they seem to get one part of their game going, something else goes cold. They have yet to have both sides of special teams, their power play and penalty killing, going at the same time. When they can score, their goaltending lapses. More recently, the opposite has been true.
“I think it’s two games in a row where we’ve got really good goaltending,” said head coach Darryl Sutter following Saturday’s loss to Minnesota. “Goaltending gave us a chance to win. But i think very little run support for him, especially from our top guys. Fairly obvious.”
Veteran forward Milan Lucic noted following the Minnesota game that the Flames haven’t had their game going all season.
“We need everyone playing their game to the level they can, which we haven’t had all year,” said Lucic. “We haven’t had all year when all four lines and all six D and goaltending has all been going at the same time. And that’s something that’s a part of our identity to have success. It starts with that and gotta make things happen.”
Saturday’s game ended unceremoniously, with the fans who remained in the Saddledome until the final buzzer booing the team as the clock ran down to zero.
“When you lose, I’d boo, too,” quipped Sutter regarding the fan reaction. When asked who the fans were booing, Sutter noted again: “As I said, our top players gotta be better players, that’s for sure.”
At the end of play on Saturday, factoring in points percentages, the Flames were chasing Winnipeg – who have also played 63 games – for the final playoff spot in the West. The Flames need to earn seven more points than Winnipeg does in their remaining games, and to hope that Nashville doesn’t leap-frog the Jets, in order to qualify for the playoffs. It’s an incredibly tall order.
For the past five games – and for much of this season – the Flames have found ways to lose. With just 19 games remaining in the regular season and a lot of ground to make up in the playoff race, they desperately need to find ways to win.
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