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The Calgary Flames made their first lineup change of the 2022-23 season on Thursday, with Noah Hanifin missing their game against the Buffalo Sabres with an undisclosed injury or illness. In Hanifin’s absence, Connor Mackey entered the lineup and a couple pairings got shuffled.
It went poorly. The Flames lost to Buffalo by a 6-3 score.
In general, Hanifin touches a lot of the game. He and Rasmus Andersson are first over the boards in most even strength situations. He also works the second power play unit with MacKenzie Weegar and the second penalty kill unit with Andersson. He usually plays about 20 minutes per night.
Taking out Hanifin leaves a big hole, as the Flames saw on Thursday evening.
The usual pairing of Weegar and Chris Tanev were kept together, while Nikita Zadorov moved up to play with Andersson, and Mackey was inserted alongside Michael Stone on the third pairing. The pairings didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
“They were all over the map,” said head coach Darryl Sutter following the game. “I think there was only two guys in the lineup, two defencemen, that played in game 4 or 5 last year. We struggled with it mightily.”
Sutter cited turnovers as a major problem in the game. Zadorov had a similiar evaluation when speaking with the media following the game.
“Well, we had another shit start to the game,” summarized Zadorov. “Too many turnovers. Too many odd-man rushes. We weren’t winning any battles down low. We knew what Buffalo was going to bring and that’s what they did, but we weren’t ready for it.”
The Flames pulled Jacob Markstrom in favour of Dan Vladar after the opening period, likely looking for a spark – Sutter replied “Cuz we got two goalies” when asked about the rationale post-game. The coaching staff shuffled their lines and shortened their bench in the third period, again looking for a spark, essentially benching Mackey in the period. He only played 28 seconds in the final frame, while Zadorov received extra shifts with Stone.
Sutter had a pretty blunt review of Mackey’s performance.
“You know, you get an opportunity you’ve got to take advantage of it,” said Sutter. “Everybody talked about our depth this summer, it got quite a bit disrupted with Oliver’s situation and then nobody stepping up in training camp other than Stone. Some of these young guys like that getting an opportunity, they should seize the opportunity. You know, he’s not a young player, actually. He’s older than Noah and Ras.”
The Flames are back in action on Saturday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.