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The Calgary Flames are a talented hockey club that has been prone to some bad habits this season. Those habits were front-and-centre in Friday night’s game at Nationwide Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They made weird decisions with the puck. They made odd decisions on defensive positioning. They gave up way too many odd-man rushes and breakaways. They didn’t really muster much in the way of offensive urgency until the last five minutes of regulation.
The Flames lost 3-1 to Columbus, snapping their winning streak at three games.
The Flames looked a bit leaky defensively early on in this game, and it set the tone. The Flames headed into the Columbus end, but a turnover led to a rush the other way, and Patrik Laine was sprung on a breakaway. He beat Jacob Markstrom 62 seconds in, scoring on the very first shot against the Flames’ netminder, giving the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead.
On the next shift, Markstrom lost his footing playing the puck behind the net. Kent Johnson whiffed on a loose puck in front of an open net.
Markstrom settled into this game after that rough early section, stopping Laine (on a two-on-one rush with Johnny Gaudreau) and stopping Yegor Chinakhov on a breakaway chance.
First period shots were 12-9 Flames (9-9 Flames at five-on-five) and five-on-five scoring chances were 10-8 Flames (high-dangers were 5-2 Blue Jackets).
Columbus starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo left the game after the first period and was replaced by backup Elvis Merzlikins for the remainder of the game.
Early in the second, Columbus doubled their lead. MacKenzie Weeger tried to connect with Chris Tanev on a D-to-D pass at the Columbus blueline. But Weegar didn’t get a lot of oomph on the pass and Eric Robinson stole it. Robinson turned on the jets, got some space, and beat Markstrom on a breakaway to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead.
Second period shots were 8-6 Blue Jackets (5-4 Blue Jackets at five-on-five) and five-on-five scoring chances were 5-2 Blue Jackets (high-dangers were 1-0 Blue Jackets).
The third period featured all sorts of special teams time, with penalties levied to both clubs. Columbus took three minors, while the Flames took five.
The Flames pressed late and managed to break Columbus’ shutout bid. With Adam Ruzicka and Radim Zohorna as big bodies in front of Merzlikins, Michael Stone’s slap shot from the point found a way through and cut the Blue Jackets’ lead to 2-1.
But that’s as close as they could get. Sean Kuraly scored an empty-netter late to make it a 3-1 Columbus win.
Third period shots were 15-10 Flames (3-3 at five-on-five) and five-on-five scoring chances were 5-1 Blue Jackets (high-dangers were 3-0 Blue Jackets).
Why the Flames lost
The Flames weren’t particularly great defensively. They were prone to turnovers that turned into strong scoring chances. Markstrom was asked to be really good, and he was, but he wasn’t able to paper over a lot of leaky defensive play in front of him.
Related to the turnovers: the Flames’ puck management decisions weren’t all that good in the offensive zone. They didn’t create a lot of strong chances in the Columbus zone, their power play wasn’t overly sharp, and they had a tendency to get in their own way with weird passes or ill-advised turnovers. High-danger chances at five-on-five were 9-2 Columbus.
The Flames desperately needed somebody to be a positive difference-maker in this game. Aside from Markstrom, nobody really stepped up to that challenge.
Markstrom, by default.
The Flames did a lot in the third period to give momentum to Columbus.
- Tyler Toffoli took a minor penalty six seconds into an early power play.
- The Flames handed Columbus a 58-second two-man advantage a little later.
- MacKenzie Weegar took a minor for slashing, then was given an additional minor for abuse of officials when he protested about the original penalty.
They did a lot to undermine their own comeback.
This and that
Radim Zohorna made his Flames debut, centring the fourth line. There was a bit hubbub about Matthew Phillips not playing. But Trevor Lewis is a big part of the penalty kill, but he’s reportedly dealing with an injury that limits his effectiveness on face-offs. So the Flames essentially had to put a centre in for this game, and the centre they called up was Zohorna.
The Flames (13-11-3) are back in action on Saturday night when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s a 5 p.m. MT start.