Despite outshooting, out-chancing and outplaying the Minnesota Wild, the Calgary Flames weren’t opportunistic enough in a 2-1 shootout loss at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night. Here are some thoughts from the game.
For the fourth straight game, the Flames were really sound defensively. After allowing only 24 shots and giving up a season-low six quality scoring chances in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Canucks at home, the Flames surrendered just 22 shots on the road against a good Wild team on Tuesday. As a group of six, the Flames’ defence corps has played its best hockey of the 2017-2018 season in the last week.
After struggling to find chemistry for most of the first third of the season, the team’s second defence pairing of T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic has really turned the corner. When he sent one first-round pick and two second-round picks to the Islanders to acquire Hamonic, general manager Brad Treliving envisioned having two pairings that could play against any line in the league. With Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton and Brodie and Hamonic all playing well right now, the Flames finally have that.
TOO MANY MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
For the second time in less than a week, the Flames outplayed a good opponent on the road only to lose in a shootout. Last Wednesday, Frederik Andersen stole two points by stopping 47 of the Flames’ season-high 48 shots and three of four in the shootout in a 2-1 Maple Leafs win. On Tuesday, Alex Stalock, who replaced an injured Devin Dubnyk following the first period, was named the game’s first star after turning aside 16 of the 17 shots he faced in the game and four of five in the shootout.
While Dubnyk, who stopped all 10 shots before leaving the game, and Stalock played well, the Wild won Tuesday’s game because the Flames missed too many opportunities, including three wide-open nets. Mikael Backlund missed one with a chance to open the scoring in the first period. Micheal Ferland missed one when he could have given the Flames a 2-1 lead in the third period. Sean Monahan, who holds the Flames’ franchise record for most career overtime goals with nine, missed an opportunity to make it 10. On most nights, all three of those chances would likely result in goals. Tuesday wasn’t one of those nights for the Flames.
The line of Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Curtis Lazar had another good night. With more stability on the top three lines and with injuries to Kris Versteeg and Jaromir Jagr leaving the Flames with only one extra forward (Freddie Hamilton), the Brouwer-Stajan-Lazar threesome has played together in three of the last four games and has made the most of their limited minutes.
For most of the season, the Flames’ fourth line has lacked an identity, but in the last few games that they’ve played together, Brouwer, Stajan and Lazar have been good defensively and have played with a lot of energy offensively, getting in on the forecheck, engaging in and winning battles and getting pucks and bodies to the net. The group has started to develop an identity as the team’s energy line, and with the way the third line of Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway has been playing, the Flames are finally getting what they need to get from their bottom six.
With Tuesday’s shootout loss, the Flames’ two-game winning streak was snapped. That’s the bad news. The good news is the team stretched its point streak to a season-long four games. With the high level of parity — or as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman prefers, competitive balance — in the league this season, every single point is important.
Head Coach Glen Gulutzan has been working hard to find ways to make sure that the team is having fun when it comes to the rink. Assistant coach Jamie Pringle has put together some great videos to get the guys laughing and Gulutzan has broken up practices with things like bar-down shooting competitions and fastest skater races. With that said, it’s hard to have fun when you’re losing. Even though Calgary lost two of its last four games, it played well enough to win both of those games and didn’t leave the building empty-handed, picking up a pair of important points in the shootout losses. The group is in good spirits right now and is gaining belief, confidence and momentum.