Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Calgary Flames go into the All-Star break with a win (and a lot of work to do)
By Ryan Pike29 days ago
The Calgary Flames beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night by a 1-0 score, snapping a four-game losing streak as the club heads into the National Hockey League’s annual All-Star break.
Following the game, the vibe around the hockey club was this was more of a “any landing you can walk away from” kind of victory, rather than one to be savoured or celebrated.
Alternate captain Rasmus Andersson summed it up pretty succinctly in his chat with the assembled media afterwards, crediting netminder Jacob Markstrom for the two points.
“Without Marky, we probably would’ve lost this game,” said Andersson. “He was really good tonight and it was good to see our power play get one, too.”
Markstrom made 32 saves for his second shutout of the season.
“I thought there were six, seven guys that came to play,” added head coach Ryan Huska. “That’s not enough on a normal night. But our goaltender thankfully was one of them, and he was amazing tonight.”
Facing a Chicago team that had lost 19 consecutive road games heading in, and the first three games of their four-game road trip, the Flames at times seemed primed to tee up an upset with their play. Chicago carried play for chunks of the game, taking advantage of Flames puck-handling miscues to create several breakaways and odd-man scoring chances.
Huska referred to his group as “leaky” and discussed mental fatigue creeping into their game when answering a question about the usage of the club’s four main defencemen. Noah Hanifin (27:14), Chris Tanev (24:18), MacKenzie Weegar (23:17) and Rasmus Andersson (21:47) all played north of 20 minutes, as the club tries to ease Oliver Kylington back into regular duty.
“We’re relying on, I don’t know how to put it, too few for too many, if that makes sense,” said Huska. “They play too much. They really do. And when you have a number of games back-to-back, or four games in a week, and you’re asking them to play that much, it’s not realistic. They’ll give you everything they have because that’s the type of people they are, but it’s hard. And we as coaches have to do a better job of managing minutes at times, and trying to keep them or allow them to be in situations where they’re still fresh. Because when you’re not fresh, that’s when the mental mistakes come in, and we want to try to avoid that if we can.”
Getting Kylington back up to speed would go a long way towards easing the burden on the other four top defenders. Huska expressed his confidence in Kylington’s progression, noting: “I’m expecting him to be a real important player for us coming back after the break.”
Saturday’s victory capped off a 15 game run for the Flames, dating back to their return from their brief Christmas break. In their previous stretch, which we nicknamed “the gauntlet,” the Flames faced many of the league’s best teams in rapid succession and went 7-6-2. In their post-Christmas run, facing an arguably easier schedule but more hectic travel, the Flames went 8-7-0.
Moreover, the Flames seemed primed to have a strong finish to that run, entering their six game homestand with six wins over their first nine post-Christmas games. But sandwiching four losses between wins over Arizona and Chicago really diminished the team’s momentum at a time when they could have been making up ground in the Western Conference’s playoff race.
By points percentage, the Flames are roughly 5.2 points behind St. Louis for the final wild card spot – the Blues are three points up on the Flames and hold two games in hand.
On Saturday night, the important thing for the Flames was halting their losing skid heading into a nine day break.
“You’re not always going to be happy with everything about a game,” said Huska. “But they found a way to win when things haven’t been going our direction over the last little while.”
The Flames beat Chicago and inched themselves back to the .500 mark. The game was not one of their best and, from the sounds of their post-game comments, they know it. They’re not out of the playoff race by any stretch, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to convert their post-season dreams into reality.
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