MONTREAL – This, as Geoff Ward pointed out, is a troubling pattern.
The Calgary Flames come out after an emotional win and lay an egg.
This time, a goose egg.
“Twice this has happened to us after a big emotional game where we’ve come out flat the next game,” said the Flames interim coach, whose frank, post-game assessment made him the sharpest Flame on the night.
“It’s the time of the year when we can’t do that. We’ve got to be prepared to play. We weren’t. We got out-battled, out-raced, out-competed, out-worked right from the opening faceoff. It took us a long time to start to try to claw our way back into the hockey game.”
Outshot 17-7 in the first and 32-16 after two, the biggest positive to come out of an uninspired effort against a desperate Canadiens club was that David Rittich’s performance (an eventual 35 saves) somehow kept it within one going into the third.
Alas, Carey Price’s 31-save shutout saw the Flames’ five-game winning streak come to a crashing halt just 48 hours after their finest of hours against Edmonton.
“Not enough emotional attachment to the game,” Ward said. “We talked about how (Montreal) could be potentially a trap game and sitting back in the (Edmonton) game too much. It’s something we have to rectify. This is part of learning how to win. When the (previous) game is over, it’s over, and you’ve got to get on to the next one.”
Late last month, the Flames followed up a 5-1 drubbing of the Oilers in Edmonton with a 5-2 face plant against the Canucks.
This time, the Flames barely threatened to beat Price, sending all their shots from the periphery with no secondary chances of note.
It marked the league-leading sixth time the Flames were shut out this season.
While it’s just their first loss in six games, the shockingly poor effort spoke to the wild inconsistency that has plagued the team this year.
While the rest of the hockey world spent the first period chewing on the two-game suspension handed down to Zack Kassian, the Flames spent plenty of time watching the Habs put on a skating clinic.
Yet, there they were in the third, just one good shot away from somehow tying the game – something the Flames have done well all season en route to an improbable perch atop the Pacific Division with Arizona.
“We didn’t really get inside all night – most of the shots we took, (Price) saw,” said Ward, who was on a roll.
“If you’re not working hard and you don’t play with structure, it’s hard to let your skill come out. We talked about how sometimes in this league it’s not about playing a good hand, it’s about playing a bad hand well. We had an opportunity to come out and play 20 minutes and win a game.”
Alas, they didn’t.
One of those nights.
One could argue the Flames’ best scoring chance came midway through the game, when Ilya Kovalchuk almost put it in his own net during a delayed Flames penalty. Kovalchuk’s centring pass bounced off Milan Lucic’s skate and scooted all the way down the ice, just five feet wide of the empty net.
“We came out flat-footed and they kind of took it to us all night,” Johnny Gaudreau said. “We’ve just got to be better. This is a big game coming off a big win at home and we wanted to start this road trip the right way and it wasn’t our best effort.”
Jordan Weal’s spin-around shot 13 minutes into the game beat Rittich on the Habs’ 14th shot of the frame.
The Flames had just two shots at that point.
Midway through a third period that saw the Flames show signs of life, Ryan Poehling put the game away with his first of the year.
Up next are the Maple Leafs in Toronto, where a good chunk of the Flames hail from.
In that vein, it’s another big game.
How they respond will go a long way toward setting the tone for the team’s league-mandated break, which starts Sunday.