Capping off what was a traumatic week for the Calgary Flames, the team finally displayed a considerable amount of emotion on the ice as well.
Shocking to see it sparked by Johnny Gaudreau, who has been questioned plenty of late for what some perceive as a lack of engagement.
It didn’t translate into a win, as the die had essentially been cast on the outcome of a 3-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes by the time tempers flared. But it had to be encouraging for coach Bill Peters to see the lads show some push back physically.
Remember, two days earlier, TJ Brodie collapsed during practice and lay convulsing on the ice in front of stunned teammates fearing the worst in what appeared to be a life and death situation.
Although the root of his unnerving episode has yet to be determined, doctors believe it’s likely nothing more severe than a fainting spell that has him at home this weekend under medical supervision while the Flames play back-to-back in Arizona and Vegas.
It was during their first stop tempers flared late in the second period when Gaudreau had had enough in a game being led 2-0 by the hosts. Elbowed and later dumped behind the net by Jason Demers, the frustrated winger crosschecked Demers to the ice.
Whistled for the retaliation, Gaudreau decided to give the fallen Demers another soft crosscheck while face down, opening the door for Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper to do what most players the NHL dream of: mug Matthew Tkachuk.
Kuemper tackled Tkachuk from behind and slammed him to the ice, prompting a melee with 11.4 seconds left in the middle frame.
Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson took turns trying to get ahold of Kuemper as David Rittich raced down ice to do the same. Alas, Tkachuk got his hands back on the maskless goalie and fed him two punches to the face before sanity prevailed and Rittich was escorted back to his end.
The exchange left the Flames shorthanded to start the third period. One minute into the third a Travis Hamonic shot while penalty killing beat Kuemper but hit the post.
It was as close as the Flames would come to mounting another one of their comebacks, to no avail.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
This was a gift.
Not that the Coyotes didn’t do their part in a 3-0 win over the visitors, but the Flames literally gave this one away against an opportunistic Coyotes club that has schemed for exactly what was coughed up Saturday.
The big cough up came early in the second when David Rittich’s unnecessary clearing attempt went straight into the chest of Derek Stepan in the high slot, who calmly placed the puck into the open net.
Call it a product of playing alongside Mike Smith for two years, Rittich continues to try emulating the best stickhandler between the pipes the league has.
Alas, he’s a far cry from the playmaker Smith is.
Worst part was his attempted pass up the middle stood to gain little on the play.
Two minutes later, a turnover by the struggling Michael Frolik in the offensive zone was brought right back into what evolved as a two-on-one easily finished by Carl Soderberg.
Cue the fireworks and frustration.
All told the Flames only turned the puck over nine times, which is the same amount they coughed up in their most complete effort of the year, against New Jersey Nov. 7.
It was a far cry from recent outings that have seen the Flames turn it over 17 or more times in three of their previous four.
Alas, against a stingy, tight-checking team like Arizona, it was all they needed.
• Elias Lindholm, the Flames’ most complete forward this season, left the game in the first period following a blocked shot that hit the outside of his left foot. Clearly stung by a Jakob Chychrun point blast that hobbled him for the rest of his shift on the penalty kill, Lindholm did not return until the third period.
• Rittich’s giveaway was the beginning of the end for the Flames on Saturday, but he’d otherwise been stellar in his first action in a week. Given a much-needed break after opening the first 20 games of the season as the league’s busiest goalie, Rittich once again gave his team a chance with 22 saves. He set the tone early by stoning Soderberg with a spectacular pad save midway through the first.
• Entering the game third in the NHL in third period goals, the Flames pressed hard for yet another come-from-behind effort like the one that saw them claw back on Nov. 5 to beat the Coyotes in Calgary. Outshooting the Coyotes 12-5 in the third Saturday, Kuemper stood tall as one of the league’s stingiest goalies so far this season, posting his second shutout of the year with 35 saves.
The Flames jumped on a plane right after the afternoon game in Glendale for a Sunday date on Hometown Hockey in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights.