Flames take step in right direction vs. Capitals, but struggles persist

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist to help the Washington Capitals take down the Calgary Flames 5-3.

Exactly one year ago the Calgary Flames used Game 11 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals as a springboard to the top of the Western Conference.

They lost in a shootout that night, but a solid effort did well to erase the humiliation of a 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins their previous outing.

From there the 5-5-1 Flames found their footing as the league’s second-best team the rest of the way.

It turned their season on a dime.

It gives backers plenty of reason for optimism in Calgary following the team’s rough start this year.

Fast-forward to Tuesday’s Groundhog Day performance against a red-hot Washington club in which the 5-5-1 Flames once again felt good about the bulk of their showing.

Alas, they lost again.

“Geez that’s similar,” was all coach Bill Peters would say about the striking parallels between the start of the last two seasons, shaking his head.

It’s where they go from here that has everyone guessing.

Earlier in the day, Peters channeled his inner Bob Hartley to sum up a significant frustration of his to start the season.

“We all know where you have to go to score,” said Peters in the midst of an unsolicited rant about playing the right way.

“If you want to rob a bank you’ve got to go to a bank. If you want to score goals you have to go to the net. Get to the net and get into the guts of the game.”
He went further.

“You can go get three points and be minus-6 and get the (crap) kicked out of ya, and lose all your games, if you want to do that.

“Want to cheat for offence and lose hockey games? Or do you want to win hockey games? I don’t want to give up freebies – we’ve given up some freebies this year.”

On Tuesday, there were more freebies.

This time they were courtesy of the goalie.

Following a gritty first period against Washington in which the Flames rolled with one of the NHL’s hottest and deepest squads, two free spots on the bingo card popped up.

First was a soft shot from the half wall by John Carlson, whose magic touch to start the season continued just 35 seconds into the period as he somehow eluded Cam Talbot. Talbot later explained he’d been sprayed in the eyes, panicked and lost sight of the puck before guiding the shot in with his stick.

Two minutes later Talbot struggled playing the puck off the boards behind the net, allowing Chandler Stephenson to bank a centering pass off Rasmus Andersson’s skate and in for a 2-0 hole.

“The two-minute lapse at the beginning of the second period was 99 per cent me,” said Talbot following his third start of the year, a 5-3 setback.

“If we don’t get a bad bounce – if that one doesn’t go in off Raz, it’s a 1-0 game and it’s a little easier to battle back from.

“You hand that team two goals they clearly don’t need with that kind of firepower, that’s the game right there. Both those goals are on me.

“I thought the team battled back hard, but couldn’t find a way to pull one out tonight with the two gifted goals.”

And just like that, the Flames were padding their stats as the NHL’s leader in playing from behind.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Where does one go to fix that?

On this night, the powerplay.

Elias Lindholm’s sixth of the year came less than a minute later with the man advantage, stemming the bleeding to pull the hosts within one.

Austin Czarnik tied it 2-2 late in the period with a goal just after a powerplay expired.

But a mere 10 seconds after feeling good about themselves, Alex Ovechkin one-timed a Nicklas Backstrom pass into the net as he’s done hundreds of times before, to put the hosts back on their heels heading into the third.

A Tom Wilson insurance goal midway through the third set the stage for Carlson to add an empty-netter before Tobias Rieder scored a meaningless goal with 16 seconds remaining.

Carlson’s fourth and fifth goals made him just the fourth blueliner in NHL lore to notch 20 points in October, joining Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch and Paul Coffey.

“It was a step in the right direction as I thought we played well, but down going into the third period is tough against a team like this,” said Matthew Tkachuk.

“It’s not a recipe for success definitely.”

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