CALGARY – It was the beatdown the Calgary Flames had coming to them.
The beatdown they probably deserved.
Two games in the making, a 9-1 spanking by Sid and his kids brought to light just how bad the Flames have been defensively of late.
Coming off a two-game roadie in which they allowed 85 shots on goal, the Flames finally ran out of goaltending miracles to lose by the biggest margin at home in 18 years.
After David Rittich made 44 saves to steal a win at MSG Sunday, the players called a meeting to discuss how unacceptable their play was defensively.
Two nights later, in Montreal, it got worse.
Then came the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team as opportunistic as they come – a team that rarely turns down a chance to exploit the shortfalls of an opponent.
And, boy, is it clear the Flames have plenty of ’em.
"I think everyone realizes we’re not good enough right now, me included. Not even close," said a seething Mike Smith, who was mercifully yanked midway through the game after allowing six goals on 21 shots.
"It starts with me, yeah, but everyone needs to be better. We played a very good hockey team and from me out no one was very good and when that happens it’s just a recipe for disaster."
So much needs to be addressed in Friday’s practice as the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals waltz into Calgary Saturday afternoon with a bee in their own bonnet thanks to a 4-1 loss to Edmonton. After that the Flames head to Toronto to play a Maple Leafs team most easterners believe should win it all this year.
So many questions, so little time.
Who starts in goal now?
Smith’s shaky start to the season hit a new low when a Sidney Crosby backhand from a sharp angle beat him short-side four minutes in. As Smith said, "it snowballed from there."
More like an avalanche.
Smith could hardly be faulted for a Patric Hornqvist deflection on the power play 10 minutes later, before Bryan Rust banged in his own rebound in the final minute of the first.
Phil Kessel opened the second by burying his own rebound before a Hornqvist shot bounced in off Smith’s glove to elicit the largest groan of the night.
Not the type of goal a big-leaguer surrenders.
Kessel mercifully ended Smith’s night after beating him clean, far side on a breakaway as he came out of the penalty box.
When asked how it felt for his team to be booed off the ice down 7-0 after two periods, Smith was curt.
"I’d boo us too," he said.
A plebiscite would surely dictate Rittich starts Saturday, but the coach has far more to think about than just popularity at this point.
He needs to manage his netminding situation moving forward while also trying to do what’s best to win a game and stop this bleeding.
"You don’t evaluate the goaltending in a game like this," said Peters, whose club was outshot 39-36.
"There are numerous breakdowns and guys getting beat up ice and one-on-one battles and footraces.
"It’s definitely three games of being outplayed – there’s no question about that. We got (out)skated in all three games so we’ve got to get our pace picked up. Our foot speed definitely has to get to where the NHL is. Right now I don’t think we’re at that pace."
Another key question is what to do with the situation on the blue line with a bunch that has allowed more high-danger scoring chances than almost any team in the league.
With Travis Hamonic returning from facial fractures Thursday night, rookie Juuso Valimaki watched from the press box.
Is it TJ Brodie’s turn next?
He has struggled so much of late he was demoted to the third pairing with Michael Stone.
Rasmus Andersson continues to be one of the Flames best players, making him a lock to stay on the top group with Mark Giordano.
Noah Hanifin and Hamonic, the second pairing, were both just minus-1.
James Neal, who missed two glorious opportunities early when it was still a game, broke Matt Murray’s shutout when he fanned on a shot that somehow fluttered over the stopper’s mitt. What was left of the crowd cheered in surprise more than anything else.
Neal didn’t celebrate his second goal as a Flame, nor did he go to the bench for the junior-style high fives. He simply skated to centre ice and steadied for the faceoff.
He wanted the evening to end as quickly as possible.
"It’s too much now and tonight is obviously embarrassing," said Sean Monahan, whose club’s last eight-goal loss at the Dome was an 8-0 loss to the Sharks in 2000.
"You’re on home ice and lose 9-1 and give up quality chances shift after shift and with the skill they have they’re going to capitalize. They scored on both power plays and whenever they had a chance it seemed to go in the back of the net.
"Obviously it’s been three games now and enough is enough. We’ve talked about it a couple times now and it happened again. We’ve got a good group in here. It has got to stop and now should be the end of it."