The Calgary Flames fell 2-1 in a shootout to the Toronto Maple leafs on Wednesday night despite outshooting, outchancing and outplaying their opponents. Here’s four thoughts from the game.
FLAMES DESERVED A BETTER FATE
The Flames fired a season-high 48 shots at Frederik Andersen but only put one past the Maple Leafs goaltender, who was by far the best player on the ice for either team. Up 26-21 on the shot clock following 40 minutes, the Flames outshot the Maple Leafs 22-8 in the final 25 minutes. But Andersen almost single-handedly got the game to overtime and helped Toronto steal a pair of points by stopping three of four Flames in the shootout. While coaches and players were disappointed to leave Toronto with one point, the mood in the dressing room following the game was pretty upbeat as the team played a really good road game.
BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS
The Flames have been better on the road than they have been at home this season. Calgary, which went 1-3-0 during a four-game home stand that ended with a 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Monday, are 7-8-0 in 15 contests at Scotiabank Saddledome this season. Outside of the “C of Red”, the Flames are 7-4-2. The simple answer is that Calgary tends to play a simpler style on the road. Glen Gulutzan and the coaching staff spent almost all of Tuesday’s unscheduled practice working on defensive zone coverage, and it paid off against the Maple Leafs. The Flames were well structured and made plays when they were there instead of trying to force something that wasn’t. Holding a Maple Leafs team that going into the game averaging 3.5 goals, third-most in the NHL, to only one in 65 minutes was a huge step in the right direction for Calary. With that said, after shutting out the Coyotes last Thursday, the Flames surrendered seven goals against the Edmonton Oilers last Saturday. I’m anxious to see if a team that has been consistently inconsistent this season can do it again on Thursday, when they’ll take on a Montreal Canadiens club that has scored 19 goals in their last three games.
Before the season started, I thought Calgary’s top five on defence was as good as any in the league, on paper. That hasn’t been the case 28 games into the 2017-2018 season. Mark Giordano had been consistently good, as always. His first-pairing partner, Dougie Hamilton, has had more good nights than bad ones, but has been too inconsistent. The Flames’ third pairing of Brett Kulak and Michael Stone has been as good – and maybe even better than expected. You could argue that Stone has been the team’s second most-consistent defenceman. After being a healthy scratch in the first seven games, Kulak has been a very pleasant surprise. The second pairing of T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be. Brodie has had some good games, as had Hamonic, but rarely have they both played well in the same game. Gulutzan has been patient with his second pairing waiting for them to develop some chemistry. While it was only one game, the entire Flames’ defence core played well on Wednesday night. As a group, it may have been their best game of the season. When general manager Brad Treliving traded for Hamonic and resigned Stone, he envisioned two elite pairings that could play equally as well against any line in the league and an above average third pairing featuring Stone, who could play a top-four role, if necessary. What I saw on Wednesday night against a deep and talented Maple Leafs was a reminder of why I felt that the defence would be strong this season and should provide the Flames and their fans with some hope that could still be the case.
Jaromir Jagr’s 24th NHL season has been a frustrating one. Unsigned until Oct. 4 — the day the Flames opened their 82-game regular season schedule — the 45-year-old missed all of training camp and the pre-season. It feels like the NHL’s second all-time leading scorer has been trying to play catch-up ever since. When healthy, Jagr has been effective, recording seven points in 17 games. Based on what I’ve seen and heard from every coach and player that I’ve asked, Jagr has made his linemates Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski better. Off the ice, the living and playing legend has played the role of a player-coach, showing his teammates some tricks of the trade that have helped him become one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Jagr has spent a lot of time with Johnny Gaudreau, teaching the Flames’ forward how to be a superstar. If Jagr never plays another game for the Flames, the $1 million that the team will pay him this season should be considered money well spent. With that said, Calgary is a better team with Jagr on the ice. Moving forward, I’m hoping the team and the player will be able to come up with a plan that will allow (convince) the player to take some non-game days off. Jagr loves to be on the ice – for practice and games. But ultimately, if staying off the ice and/or out of the gym on occasion allows Jagr to play more games, that will be a win for the player, the team, the league and its fans.