Over the off-season, the Calgary Flames lost Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, three players who quite simply could find ways to put the puck in the net when the Flames needed a goal.
On Friday afternoon, the Flames could’ve really used a goal – from those departed players or really from anybody – in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals.
“Thought we had a good first period,” said head coach Darryl Sutter following the game. “If we had handled the puck a little better in the first, we probably could’ve or would’ve scored a goal. Kinda looked like one of those games where who was gonna score first was the difference.”
The Flames began the game with their status quo lines:
  • Adam Ruzicka – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli
  • Dillon Dube – Nazem Kadri – Andrew Mangiapane
  • Jonathan Huberdeau – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman
  • Milan Lucic – Trevor Lewis – Brett Ritchie
By the end of the first period, Ruzicka and Lewis had switched spots. By the third period, Huberdeau found himself back with Lindholm and Toffoli, and Lewis was with Backlund and Coleman.
According to Sutter, elevating Huberdeau was about giving him more ice time after he’s improved his game of late. Sutter referred to Huberdeau’s game as “more on top of everything” and sharper recently.
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“I think Jonathan’s game has come a long ways in the last five or six games so trying to get him out there as much as you can,” said Sutter. “So a lot of those timeouts, things like that, after their power play, things like that. So I don’t think it’s as much a trio, it’s more about ice time. We’ve got to play a certain way to win, a real check, grind game. that’s the way it’s going to be, but then you need guys to score. if they’re playing good enough, then you try to get them a couple more shifts.”
As part of the shuffle, Ruzicka saw himself dropped down the rotation to the fourth line. After being consistently noticeable for several games on the left side of Lindholm and Toffoli – he was credited with high-danger scoring chances in his first five games – Ruzicka hasn’t generated a high-danger opportunity in the past three games.
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“Wasn’t sharp enough,” said Sutter of Ruzicka’s demotion. “You know what, there’s a leash, too. You go three, four games and your game starts dropping off, there’s still a reckoning for those young players.”
So far on the road trip, at five-on-five the Flames have a slight advantage in expected goals (10.79-10.01) and scoring chances (112-105). The Flames have turned 35 high-danger chances into just two goals on this trip, while their opponents have scored five goals on 45 high-danger chances.
Opponents have out-scored the Flames at five-on-five by a 10-7 margin. Their special teams have been out-scored 3-2 over the road trip. They haven’t played poorly, as their expected goals and scoring chance figures support. But they just cannot find that one extra goal that they need to get in order to string wins together and start climbing up the standings.
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Unless they can find a way to get more goals, the Flames will remain mired in the league’s mucky middle. And we get further into the season, that’s a very uncomfortable place to be.
The Flames are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they finish their road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes.