The Calgary Flames may be returning home from their roadie with two of a possible four points, but have little to be proud of in the process.
Outplayed in consecutive contests, the Flames clung to life in both thanks to the surprising sharpness of backup goalie David Rittich who faced 85 shots.
James Neal has still yet to find his pace, Johnny Gaudreau continues to get pasted and TJ Brodie did little to up his popularity in Cowtown.
Some takeaways from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss in Montreal.
RITTICH RIDICULOUSLY GOOD
After making 44 saves in New York Sunday the Flames decided to rethink their goalie assignment for Tuesday in Montreal.
Starting him again made sense, but it wound up being cruel and unusual punishment as he faced 40 shots in an effort that made him the game’s first star.
The Flames players may like the affable, young backup but they sure had a funny way of showing it by leaving him on an island as the Habs peppered him all night long.
In the first eight minutes alone he made five stellar stops to keep the game scoreless.
It wasn’t until the 27th shot of the night the hosts finally solved Rittich with a power play goal that sparked a three-goal outburst in a three-minute window, erasing the Flames 1-0 lead.
The Flames could never recover offensively, but Rittich continued to make big saves to keep the team in the game.
All told he faced 85 shots in the Flames’ two-game roadie through New York and Montreal that saw the Flames split 1-1.
Rittich will now undoubtedly sit as the Penguins and Capitals come to Calgary to test Mike Smith’s mettle.
Rittich’s strong play erased concerns by many he wouldn’t be able to bounce back from a rough preseason and tough second half last year.
ANOTHER BRODIE BOO BOO
It was TJ Brodie’s 500th NHL game, so he should have known better than to be the one to kick-start the Canadiens’ comeback with a peewee-level penalty.
Seconds after taking a big hit on the boards by Jonathan Drouin late in the second, Brodie lowered his shoulder and exacted a little revenge on the Canadiens’ forward at centre ice by knocking him down while the puck was nowhere in sight.
The penalty led to Montreal’s power play goal to finally tie a game that had seen the hosts throw more than two dozen shots on Rittich without being able to solve him.
Within three minutes, they had two more goals to give Carey Price a 3-1 cushion heading into the final frame.
Already the fans’ favourite whipping boy in Calgary, Brodie’s latest misstep won’t help his popularity.
He spent most of Sunday’s game at MSG demoted to the second pairing as part of a likely message from coach Bill Peters that his penchant for turnovers isn’t sitting well.
On Tuesday he spent the whole night back alongside Giordano.
With his penalty gaffe Tuesday, some think one of the most logical moves from the 28-year-old would be a demotion or eventual stint in the press box.
It’s unlikely, as he still logs well over 20 minutes a night.
However, with Travis Hamonic now able to take full contact in practice, his imminent return means someone on the back end has to sit out. Perhaps something like that would further send the message he can’t continue to cost his team with carelessness.
Don’t count on it though.
GAUDREAU HIT PARADE CONTINUES
It seems like Johnny Gaudreau has been hit hard more times already this year than he was all last season.
What used to be a rarity has become routine.
Tuesday’s game was no different as Gaudreau was buried awkwardly into the boards by Jordie Benn midway through the third period, leaving the Flames star slow to get up as tempers flared.
He left the game for a brief examination by the training staff before returning for the Flames’ final, weak push late.
One of these days a hit is going to do more damage than just the odd stinger.
How Gaudreau and the Flames can stop this trend is an interesting quandary.
Flames management still believes in the old school belief that tough players like Dalton Prout or Anthony Peluso can give youngsters and stars more room to play without being scared.
However, in today’s speedy game it’s a significant sacrifice to sit a skilled player for some little-used brawn.
It might have to be done, though, to stop the abuse Gaudreau is taking.
Tkachuk still rolling
Matthew Tkachuk had yet another strong showing, setting up both Flames goals to step into a tie with Gaudreau for the team lead with 12 points.
The first Flames goal was originally credited to Tkachuk as it appeared he buried his fourth of the year in the first period, converting a Mikael Backlund pass from behind the net.
Alas, linemate Michael Frolik eventually got credited with it as it banked off his skate.
Tkachuk’s stellar cross-ice pass to Backlund started the setup for the Flames second goal, finished by Elias Lindholm for his team-leading sixth.
Tkachuk’s play on the power play this year has been stellar as the chief net-front presence, but late in this one he manned the point for a wandering Giordano and did so admirably.
There’s little he can’t do, including rough it up with the likes of Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher who are happy to play the same agitating game as Tkachuk.
Next up – Flames host Pittsburgh Thursday.