Mike Smith experiences desert deja vu in Flames debut against Oilers

EDMONTON — One minute into his Flames debut Mike Smith watched Connor McDavid use his speed to split the defence and walk in alone.

Must’ve felt like he was still in the desert.

The 35-year-old netminder managed to stick out his pad to rob the reigning Hart Trophy winner, ensuring his new team wasn’t reeling early.

However, 44 shots later – including one point-blank slapper that ripped off his mask – Smith had to have felt right at home, dealing with the type of onslaught he’d grown accustomed to as a Coyote.

“Not the feeler I wanted to start with but that’s the type of player he is,” said Smith of his opening test. “When he has space and time he can wind it up and create some pretty unique scoring chances.”

Unique indeed.

Back to Smith.

Last year, the veteran faced more than 40 shots 11 times, walking away with an astonishing 6-2-3 record that included a 57-save overtime loss.

The first nine such outings he didn’t lose in regulation.

Traded to Calgary this summer where the Flames bolstered blue line was touted as one of the league’s very best, things were supposed to be different.

Much different.

Not Wednesday in Edmonton where he was Calgary’s lone star in a stunningly one-sided affair.

Yet, thanks to Smith, the Flames were only behind 1-0 until 12 minutes left in the game when McDavid broke in alone for the third time and buried his second of the night.

TJ Brodie, who was tasked with trying to contain McDavid’s line all night alongside Hamonic, could only wave his stick in vain as the Oilers captain cut in and lifted the puck over Smith’s catching glove.

His hat-trick goal in a 3-0 win came with an empty net.

“That was our bright spot tonight – our goaltender,” said a somewhat chapped Glen Gulutzan, whose club was pedestrian at best, outshot 45-26.

“That was a lot different if he’s not playing like that for us. We needed to win a battle.”

Few in Calgary could have been surprised by the result as the Flames hadn’t won a season opener since 2009 and have been sub-.500 in four of their last five years, including a 5-10-1 start last season.

The good news for Flames fans is that they don’t face the Oilers two nights later as they did last year en route to a season sweep by the northern rivals.

What wasn’t foreseen was Smith having to contort his six-foot-four frame in an effort to stand on his head.

A good sign for the netminder.

Bad sign for the blue line.

“He was unbelievable. He kept us in the game and made some huge saves all night,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano.

“If we get that kind of goaltending all year, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

If they allow the Oilers to dominate the wall and use their formidable size as effectively as Wednesday’s opener, the Flames will be swept by the Oilers again.

Yet, it’s early.

While McDavid was the most dangerous player on the ice all night, Oscar Klefbom spearheaded the shooting gallery with nine shots, including two blasts Smith saved with his blocker, one with his glove, several into the pillows and one off the mask that surely had concussion spotters debating a phone call.

McDavid tested him seven times.

So involved in the action was Smith that in the midst of a 13-shot second period he took exception to a knee in the head by Patrick Maroon, immediately engaging the six-foot-three winger in an angry bear hug.

It didn’t seem to faze him though as he calmly turned aside consecutive Kris Russell shots during a particularly prolonged Oilers push.

The pressure was relentless, the pushback was minimal as Cam Talbot easily steered aside all 26 shots tossed his way by a Flames team that was kept in the game only by their heroic goaltending.

It’s worth noting McDavid’s first goal was a rebound off a Leon Draisaitl shot the goaltender had no chance on.

Yes, it’s early and yes, he’s McDavid, but the number of times he blew past a mobile defence that included two particularly humbling sequences was disturbing for a Flames team that will long be measured against the Oil.

Even their prized new defender, Travis Hamonic, was victimized by McDavid’s speed several times.

If not for Smith an embarrassing night would have been downright humiliating — a scenario Smith liked to think he left behind in Arizona.