In their first game following a five-day Christmas break, the Calgary Flames picked up an important point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose on Thursday. Here are some takeaways from the game and a quick look at Friday’s tilt in Anaheim.
For the first time since Oct. 15 of last season, the Flames lost a game when leading following 40 minutes. The Flames went into Thursday’s contest versus the Sharks with a 43-game winning streak when up through two periods of play. On goals by Garnet Hathaway and Mikael Backlund, which sandwiched one by the Sharks’ Joe Pavelski, the Flames led 2-1 following the first period and after the second period.
Timo Meier squared the score with exactly eight minutes remaining in regulation time, forcing overtime and eventually a shootout, which the Sharks won 2-0 on goals by Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi Despite Thursday’s setback, the Flames are now 43-0-2 when leading following 40 minutes in two seasons under head coach Glen Gulutzan.
ANOTHER STRONG PERFORMANCE
For the ninth time in 10 games, Calgary played well. In their final game before Christmas, the Flames dropped a 3-2 decision versus the Canadiens at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Dec. 22. While the final score made it look like the game was close, it wasn’t. The Flames played poorly. In hindsight, that game appears to be a blip on the radar. The Flames have played well enough to win nine of their last 10 contests and probably deserve better than their 4-3-3 record during that stretch.
With 14 of the 15 Western Conference teams legitimately still in the hunt for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, every point is important. The Flames have done a good job banking points in seven of their last 10 games. With that said, they’re going to have to start winning more than losing to make the playoffs in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Not only did the Flames lose Thursday’s game against the Sharks, they also lost an important player in versatile forward Michael Frolik, who left the game in the second period after taking a Brent Burns shot in the face. Frolik left a trail of blood on the ice on his way to the bench and then to the dressing room. Gulutzan told me after the game that they wouldn’t have an update on Frolik until Friday morning, but I’d be surprised if he played versus the Ducks on Friday night.
Without Frolik, the Flames primarily used Jaromir Jagr and Troy Brouwer on the right side of their second line with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. Frolik is a player that the Flames feel comfortable using in any situation. Good offensively and great defensively, in my opinion, Frolik is one of the team’s unsung heroes. Replacing Frolik would be tough for any of the NHL’s 31 teams, but could be especially difficult for a Flames squad that doesn’t have a lot of depth at right wing. Fingers crossed that Frolik will be back sooner rather than later.
After missing the last two games and seven of the previous nine, Jagr returned to the lineup versus the Sharks. Thursday’s game was the 1,731st of Jagr’s career, moving him into a tie with Ron Francis for third-most in NHL history. The only players who have skated in more regular season games than Francis and Jagr are Gordie Howe and Mark Messier. With the Flames’ five-day Christmas break, Jagr, who has been bothered by a nagging lower-body injury almost all season long, had 10 days between games to heal, and was an effective player for the Flames versus San Jose, registering three shots in 13:10 of ice time.
Jagr gives the Flames some much-needed depth and flexibility at right wing, especially without Frolik. Jagr is just 25 games away from tying Messier’s 1,756 games played and 36 games shy of equaling Howe’s league record of 1,767 games played. Here’s hoping the 45-year-old, who played in all 82 regular season games with the Panthers in 2016-2017, can stay relatively healthy for the remainder of the season and rewrite the league’s record book.
HONDA CENTER CURSE LIFTED?
Sarcasm alert: Honda Center has been a house of horrors for the Anaheim Ducks in games against the Flames this season. Not only have the Ducks not won a game against the Flames on home ice in the 2017-2018 season, they haven’t even scored a goal. Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund scored and Mike Smith set a new franchise record for most saves in a shutout win with 43 in the Flames’ 2-0 victory over the Ducks on Oct. 9. Sure, it was the Flames first win in Anaheim since Jan. 19, 2004, snapping a league-record 25-game losing streak in an opponent’s building – but what have you done for me lately?
After proving to everybody, most importantly themselves, that they can win at Honda Center, I’m anxious to see if the Flames can make it two wins in a row on the road versus the Ducks in another proverbial four-pointer.