It’s never a good sign when the opposing netminder comes close to tying your entire team’s offensive output.
On a night when Tristan Jarry’s first-period heroics set the stage for a 4-1 Penguins win on Tuesday, it was the Pittsburgh goalie who almost topped it off with an empty-netter of his own.
While its unclear if Jarry’s wrister at an open net was indeed on target in the dying minutes, Matthew Tkachuk dove to stop it, preventing any chance Jarry might have scored as many goals as the Calgary Flames have combined for in their last two.
And so it goes once again for the Flames, whose offensive rebirth during their seven-game win streak has been stymied two games in a row.
Two days after their best first period of the year turned into a 4-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Flames found a way to lose a game in which they outclassed and outshot the Penguins 17-6 during the first 20 minutes.
In the midst of an opening period in which the Flames hit the iron and just about every part of Jarry’s body, they were rewarded this time with a pretty play finished by Johnny Gaudreau.
However, the second-period adjustments by the Sidney Crosby-less visitors prompted the Flames to get into penalty trouble, as well as puck management issues that plagued them the first two dozen games.
“It’s a frustrating game there – we come out flying in the first and I thought we played a great period,” said Sean Monahan.
“We sat back a little in the second, turned the puck over and obviously took a few penalties and they capitalized. We’ve got to find a way to score goals. We’ve had a lot of looks lately. At this time of the year, where we are and where we want to be, we have to bear down and bury those.”
The most glaring missed opportunity came late in the second period, down 2-1, when Dillon Dube found himself in alone with Milan Lucic. Three passes were made before Lucic was unable to lift his shot over Jarry’s pad.
Unlike the Flames’ well-documented scoring woes the first couple dozen games of the year, the club’s two-game losing skid is filled with Grade-A chances that are being stopped by red-hot goalies.
“We’ve generated 43 scoring chances the last two hockey games, so were generating enough offensively,” said interim head coach Geoff Ward.
“The thing we have to remember from this game is it’s not what you make all the time, it’s what you leave. We left a little bit out there. For us it’s about game management. When we get into situations when its crunch time we have to stay composed and have to manage the game a little bit better.”
The Penguins tied the game midway through the evening, mere seconds after the Flames killed a penalty called when TJ Brodie tried to climb back over the boards after his teammate decided to stay on the ice last second.
Just over a minute after John Marino beat Cam Talbot, Bryan Rust’s shot found a way to squeeze past the Flames backup to set the stage for a tight third.
Huge stops by Talbot on Jake Guentzel and Brandon Tanev kept the comeback alive in a result no one could fault on goaltending.
The Flames sent eight of their 34 shots on Jarry in the third before Evgeni Malkin’s 400th found the empty net, followed by a 200-foot freebie by Kris Letang.
The question that may start to loom is whether the Flames’ potent offence during their recent seven–game win streak was an anomaly or more indicative of what they’re capable of moving forward.
After all, goals have been extremely hard to come by for the Flames this year, just one season after finishing second in the league.
One positive sign on that front is the play of Gaudreau, whose tenth of the season late in the first was symbolic of his improved play of late.
It was a banner shift as Gaudreau and Joseph Blandisi exchanged slashes at the Penguins blue line, prompting an agitated Gaudreau to follow the forward all the way back to the Flames goalie crease where he made a great defensive stop before turning up ice.
Moments later, Gaudreau converted a pretty passing play from Mikael Backlund and Tobias Rieder to open the scoring.
On his way back to the high-five line, he appeared to pass along season’s greetings to Blandisi on the bench.
Rare fire from the frustrated Flames winger.
“That kind of sums up exactly what we’re talking about,” said Ward of the attention to detail at both ends.
“We make a good play defensively and catch them in a vulnerable position and we’re able to make a play and score a goal. We have to stay with that. That represents what our game should look like.”
The Flames will try to snap their two-game drought Thursday when the Montreal Canadiens come to town.