The Calgary Flames’ performance on Saturday could be described as “listless,” “lethargic,” “lazy,” or, most generously, “leisurely.”
Appropriately, all of those adjectives begin with an L, which was what the Flames deserved and earned in their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Canucks.
Vancouver snapped its six-game losing skid in the process. You would be forgiven if you watched that game assuming the Flames were the team with the extended active winless streak, but no—the loss ended a run of three consecutive wins for Calgary.
Jacob Markstrom was outstanding on Saturday, making 43 saves on 45 shots (45 shots!!). It’s not often that the losing team’s goaltender has the better save percentage in such a low-scoring game, but Markstrom managed to best Thatcher Demko in that regard.
If only the Flames’ skaters could have played at their goalie’s level. It’s almost impossible to sugarcoat just how bad basically everybody was. The Flames were outshot 20-4 in the first period but somehow escaped without a goal. The Canucks controlled 68.36% of the expected goals in period two but remained stuck in a 1-1 game after 40 minutes.
Finally, Tyler Myers broke the deadlock with a goal off a great individual effort late in the third period.
The only really surprising part about the go-ahead goal—other than who scored it—was that it didn’t happen sooner.
The Flames played messy hockey from the start but their problems became even more apparent after the loss of one of their most stabilizing players.
File this tweet under “Things you absolutely hate to see.”
Backlund, who spent the past week playing great hockey alongside Andrew Mangiapane and Milan Lucic as the centre of the Flames’
“Dough Line” third line, played a team-low 4:27 on Saturday after leaving the game in the first period.
Elias Lindholm also missed some time in the second period after taking a familiar-looking
reverse hit from Canucks defender Alexander Edler.
Lindholm eventually returned; Backlund did not, and the Flames felt his absence all night long. Their already slow start led to a complete disaster of a game, with the Flames struggling to overcome being shorthanded and having to constantly shuffle their lines.
The Flames’ transition game was a mess. Their zone entries were terrible, particularly on the power play. Speaking of the man-advantage, the Flames managed as many shots on their power play chances as the Canucks did while shorthanded.
Geoff Ward primarily turned to Sam Bennett in an effort to replace Backlund after the latter left the game. With all due respect to the Flames’ 2014 fourth overall pick, he cannot match Backlund’s contributions at this point in time.
That clip essentially summarizes the entire night for both teams. Vancouver came out determined to make Saturday night hellish for their opponents, playing an extremely aggressive forechecking style and stifling all the Flames’ outlet options. Calgary, meanwhile, had no response, trying to force the same play again and again before turning the puck over.
Bennett did score the Flames’ only goal of the night, beating a screened Demko from the slot with a nice snapper.
This goal tied the game at one, a score that inexplicably remained for the following 24 minutes despite the Canucks’ continued dominance.
Needless to say, the Flames will need to make some changes in time for their upcoming Monday contest against Vancouver. The Tkachuk-Lindholm-Dube line only generated 0.22 expected goals for in 14:37 of 5v5 ice time. They need to get those guys going.
It also may be time to rotate Byron Froese and Joakim Nordstrom out of the lineup. Both players posted sub-20% expected goals rates on Saturday, with Nordstrom bottoming out at a meagre 3.80%.
Nordstrom’s defensive results were barely okay but at a certain point, an NHL player needs to be able to do something in the offensive zone. Through 12 games, the Flames have generated just 1.59 expected goals/60 with Nordstrom on the ice at 5v5, by far the lowest mark of any player on the team.
Conversely, he boasts the third-worst 5v5 defense results of any Flame: Calgary allows 2.40 expected goals/60 at 5v5 when Nordstrom plays. Surely Glenn Gawdin or Matthew Phillips would be able to provide the Flames with more positive effects.
The Canucks added a third goal late in the final frame when Brandon Sutter scored into Jacob Markstrom’s vacated net. All in all, the Flames lost a game they very much deserved not to win.
The Three Gould Stars
It’s a play on my last name, see.
These “Gould Stars” will be used to recognize players who were noticeable—for reasons both good and bad—in the game being discussed. This is not a list of the three best players.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at one particular performance in all three of the Gould Stars.
- Gould Star One: Saturday’s game was Connor Mackey‘s NHL debut, and it showed. The 24-year-old defenseman alternated at times between looking afraid to make a mistake and overcommitting, as he did on the Canucks’ first goal. Bonus Bad Points to Johnny Gaudreau’s awful non-reception of what should have been an automatic breakout pass.
- Gould Star Two: Mackey‘s best bet to improve is by gaining more confidence. For much of Saturday’s game, he looked like he didn’t quite feel sure of himself. That’s why he needs to keep working at being aggressive as part of the Flames’ transition game. He’ll make more mistakes like that one, but that’s part of the acclimation process: Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, and TJ Brodie all made tons of errors as young defensemen breaking into the lineup. Mackey needs to continue pushing the boundaries of his comfort zone to become more confident within the Flames’ system. He’ll be in tough to adapt and grow if he only sticks to the conservative and tentative plays. Eventually, Mackey will find a happy medium that works—or he’ll find himself in Stockton.
- Gould Star Three: Saturday’s contest was Mackey‘s first-ever professional hockey game. It was his first game of any kind since Mar. 7, 2020. And his performance had some good moments:
- This is the sort of play that tells you a lot about Mackey: he’s got aggressive intuitions that might need to be addressed in his own zone if he starts following them more frequently. If the timing on the above play is a little bit different, the Canuck forward blows by him with the puck—but Mackey timed it right and his play resulted in more sustained zone time for the Flames. If Mackey keeps making effective transition plays like that, he’ll help the Flames to consistently apply offensive pressure. But if he keeps cheating a little on breakouts and losing his defensive assignments, he could quickly fall out of favour in Calgary. He needs to find the proper balance. Ultimately, Mackey opted to make the safe play more often than not in his debut game, typically deferring to his partner on breakouts and making simple puck-moving decisions in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see if he becomes more aggressive as his confidence increases—and if he gets more game action to brush away any rust from his year off.
It remains to be seen whether Mackey will play when the Flames return to action at 8:00 p.m. MT on Monday. They’ll take on the Canucks for a third consecutive game.