The Calgary Flames‘ season-long seven-game winning streak was snapped on Saturday, when they dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Hockey Day in Canada.
RESTED BUT RUSTY
Fresh off of their five-day break, the Flames were well rested going into Saturday’s game against the Jets. With that said, they looked a little rusty, especially in the first period. On the flip side, the Jets, who had a six-day break between games, had plenty of jump from the drop of the puck, looking sharp from start to finish and deserved to pick up two points.
GAME-CHANGING COACH’S CHALLENGE
Already leading 1-0 on T.J. Brodie’s third goal of the season and first in 44 games dating back to Oct. 7, when he scored twice in a 6-3 victory over the Jets in his team’s home opener, the Flames appeared to take a 2-0 first-period lead on a goal by Troy Brouwer. But Jets bench boss Paul Maurice challenged the goal, which was overturned. Here’s the explanation from the NHL’s Situation Room:
“After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee determined that the actions of Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk caused Winnipeg’s Matt Hendricks to contact Hellebuyck before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing him from doing his job in the crease. The decision was made in accordance with Rule 78.7 which states “The standard for overturning the call in the event of a ‘GOAL’ call on the ice is that the Referee, after reviewing any and all available replays and consulting with the Toronto Video Room, determines that the goal should have been disallowed due to ‘Interference on the Goalkeeper,’ as described in Rules 69.1, 69.3 and 69.4.”
After watching multiple replays from multiple angles on Sportsnet, I didn’t think the call on the ice would be overturned. I was wrong. Truth be told, I don’t think the call should have been reversed. Tkachuk bumped Hendricks outside of the blue paint. Hendricks lost his balance, wound up on one leg and grazed his own goaltender, which may or may not have impacted Hellebuyck’s ability to get across the crease to stop Brouwer’s shot. Tough call for Brouwer, Tkachuk and the Flames but a great challenge by Maurice.
Another game, another fantastic performance by Flames goaltender Mike Smith. The Jets were the better of the two teams on Saturday and probably would have won by multiple goals if not for Smith, who was selected as the game’s second star in a losing cause. Even though he surrendered two goals on three shots in the shootout, the Flames probably wouldn’t have picked up a point without a superb effort from their goaltender. The Flames have been searching for a No. 1 goalie since Miikka Kiprusoff called it quits.
As good as Johnny Gaudreau has been (and he’s been really, really good), in my opinion, Smith has been the team’s most valuable player this season and has given the Flames elite-level goaltending. With all due respect to Marc-Andre Fleury, Smith, not the Golden Knights netminder – who has missed most of the season due to injury – should be in between the pipes for the Pacific Division at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game.
YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL
The bye week didn’t come at a great time for the Flames, who swept a three-game homestand and then a four-game road trip to go into their five-day break as the hottest team in the NHL. The Flames weren’t surfing the same tidal wave of momentum coming out of the break that they were when they went into it with seven consecutive victories. Glen Gulutzan’s group was far from being at its best on Saturday, but it still managed to pick up an important point against a very good Jets team, that with the shootout win, moved into first place in a deep Central Division that doesn’t have one bad team.
With the point, the Flames, who were 11 points out of second in the Pacific going into their game against the Kings on Jan. 4, moved past the Sharks and into sole possession of second in the division going into Saturday night’s games. If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy or gal, the Flames’ seven-game winning streak was snapped on Saturday. If you’re a glass-half-full type of person, the Flames stretched their season-long point streak to eight games and continued their climb up the standings.
DON’T SLEEP ON THE SLUMPING SABRES
While the Flames have big games against Pacific Division rivals Kings and Oilers on their schedule before next weekend’s all-star break, they can’t get ahead of themselves by looking past Monday’s contest versus the Sabres. With 12 teams fighting for eight playoff spots in the Western Conference, every single point is important, so leaving one or two of them on the table versus a Sabres squad that sits dead last in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference and ahead of only the Coyotes in the NHL’s overall standings is something the Flames can’t afford to do.
After getting blown-out 7-1 on home ice by the Stars on Saturday, I suspect the Sabres will at least put up a good fight against the Flames on Monday.