LAS VEGAS – After getting crushed by a check, T.J. Brodie was too hurt to play the third period here Sunday, which at least might explain how badly he played in the second. But the defenceman’s injury doesn’t come close to explaining the Calgary Flames.
It doesn’t explain their 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights when the Flames dominated the first period, then disintegrated over a 10-minute stretch in the second after Brodie was steam-rolled by Ryan Reaves. And it certainly can’t explain a season in which the Flames, who were supposed to have one of the best defences in the National Hockey League, could bleed goals down the stretch and go 3-6-1 in their last 10 games to retreat from the race.
Everything disappointing about the Flames was evident here. They couldn’t score on the many chances they generated in the first period, couldn’t defend in the second, were outplayed on special teams and their brittleness under duress made it easy for the Knights to beat them.
At least their suffering will be over soon because the Flames, who lost 7-4 at home Friday against the San Jose Sharks, have just nine games remaining and a four-point deficit (going to six pending the Dallas Stars’ late game Sunday in Winnipeg) in the Western Conference wild-card race.
“We’re fighting for our lives and it’s obviously frustrating to go out like that,” Calgary goalie Mike Smith said. “But it’s not over until you’re officially eliminated.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I think it’s the mental part of the game where if you get scored on, the next shift coming out you need to get the momentum back. That’s just part of being a good pro.”
After Calgary surrendered a fluky power-play goal to Colin Miller at 5:33 of the second period to fall behind 1-0 in a game in which the Flames outshot the Knights 20-6 in the opening 20 minutes, Brodie had an unforced giveaway that Vegas turned into a 2-on-1 and 2-0 lead at 6:26.
Then the Knights scored again at 13:01 when Flame Micheal Ferland meekly lost a puck battle along the boards and Calgary couldn’t defend a two-against-five. Then they scored again on another 2-on-1 at 14:10 when Flames defenceman Mark Giordano gambled and was caught.
By “they,” we mean William Karlsson, because the Vegas winger scored a natural hat trick to boost his season total to 39 goals – 24 more than he scored the last two years combined. The 25-year-old plucked in the expansion draft from the Columbus Blue Jackets is the most amazing aspect of the Knights’ remarkable inaugural season.
During the Knights’ four-goal outburst, the Flames were unrecognizable as the team that dominated the first period.
“I just think, you’re going to get scored on (and) it’s how you react to mistakes and goals against and changes of momentum in games,” Smith said. “Tonight, I thought we didn’t handle it very well. We started forcing things. We thought we could get it all back in one shift. That’s not the way it works in this league.
“We’re still in the hockey game. It’s 1-0 or 2-0 there and we decide we’re going to run all over the place to get back in the game.”
Giordano added: “I don’t know, I thought it was pretty obvious we were the better team in the first. We controlled the play, we played in their zone. We let the momentum swing. We’ve got to do a way better job of when they do get one – even if they get two – to stop the momentum.
“We took too many chances when we were down. But you can’t blame guys for trying too hard. It’s not a lack of effort; it’s none of that. It’s our reads and our decision-making and knowing that there’s still a lot of time left. That’s what hurt us tonight.”
A lot of things have hurt them this season.
Their power play is 24th in the NHL. After sending first and second-round 2018 draft picks to the New York Islanders for defenceman Travis Hamonic, who was supposed to give the Flames a marquee top-four, Calgary’s 16th-ranked goals-against average of 2.90 is actually worse than a year ago. Brodie, especially, has been a mess.
Top centre Sean Monahan is playing at half speed with an undisclosed lower-body injury, and super sophomore Matthew Tkachuk is now out with a suspected concussion. Smith missed 13 games with a lower-body injury and the Flames won only five times. But since he returned four games ago, Smith’s save percentage is 86.7. And Ferland, who helped drive the offence in the first half of the season, has one goal in 18 games and, alarmingly, little physical presence some nights. He registered zero hits against Vegas. Former fourth-overall draft pick Sam Bennett has 11 goals this season.
“There’s tons of hope,” Giordano insisted. “There’s nine games left and that puts us at 98 points if we win them all.”
But they’ve got only 10 wins the last two months.