ST. LOUIS – It’s the type of streak Johnny Gaudreau is unaccustomed to.
For the second game in a row, the Calgary Flames winger came up wincing after being steamrolled at the blue line while trying to enter the opposition’s zone.
It was a scary moment as Flames fans wondered if their 165-pound superhero would bounce up once again. This time, his slow recovery to his feet included the grabbing of the wrist Brayden Schenn slashed milliseconds before the hit. A double whammy that seemed to have him in some distress for a minute or so while he regrouped on the bench.
“The slash was a little more than the hit, but I’m alright,” said Gaudreau of the scary collision with Alex Steen he’s generally unaccustomed to absorbing.
“(Schenn) got me in the hand there, I kind of looked down and the guy stepped up and hit me.”
Enquiring minds want to know if the two-game hit streak is a byproduct of Gaudreau’s power play assignment, which is to bring the puck into the offensive zone using his speed and quickness.
Or were these flukes?
After all, even Wayne Gretzky got hit a few times.
“In Nashville the guy poked my skate out and I probably would have avoided the hit if I didn’t get my skate poked out, and tonight I looked down at my finger when I got slashed and didn’t see the guy step up on me,” said the Flames leading scorer, who was held pointless for the first time this year.
“Both probably would have been avoided if those two plays didn’t happen before the hit.”
Coach Bill Peters wasn’t worried about Gaudreau’s second–straight collision, but suggested perhaps there’s one way it could have been avoided.
“It was probably a situation where the puck needs to be kicked out quicker,” said Peters, who’d seen Gaudreau post seven points his first three outings.
After labouring to the bench, Gaudreau returned to the ice one shift later to be part of a 5-on-3 powerplay midway through a game they trailed the Blues 4-1.
A goal there might have changed the complexion of the evening, but the closest the Flames’ previously sizzling power play would come was the post.
Minutes after the kill, David Perron scored his third of the night – his second with the man advantage – to seal the deal on a punchless visiting club unable to carry the momentum it built in Nashville two nights earlier.
Third period goals by Derek Ryan and Mikael Backlund put on a façade Calgary’s 5-3 loss was close.
Captain Mark Giordano lamented the fact his club got “out-competed” the first 40 minutes – an obvious commentary on an effort that ensured the mojo Mike Smith found in his recent 43-save shutout was stymied.
“I think it was pretty evident – I think everybody saw that,” said James Neal of being out-battled in an Enterprise Center the Flames have had little luck in for many years.
“For whatever reason we came in and weren’t ready to go. This was a desperate club and they didn’t want to lose three in a row.”
Neal didn’t want to go four in a row without a goal, a streak he snapped by depositing the puck into a wide open net after Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube combined for a beautiful setup.
Dube picked up his first NHL point by knocking Vladimir Tarasenko off the puck on a speedy forecheck and made a brilliant feed to Bennett whose nifty stickwork pulled Jake Allen out of position for Neal to tap in a loose puck… and exhale.
“For sure,” said the pricey free agent signing when asked if his game-opener seven minutes in was a relief.
“I put pressure on myself to score every night and it’s nice to get my first one in a Flames jersey. It sucks it came with a loss but I’ll take momentum from that and build off it for sure.”
Calgary didn’t have much time to savour his breakthrough as St. Louis countered 12 second later – the first of three goals you’d have trouble faulting Smith on.
A Flames power play unit that scored five goals in the club’s last two wins went stone cold on a night when a single conversion on any one of their four chances could have changed their fortunes.
The killer came late in the first period when the Blues were whistled for a penalty and a penalty shot on the same play. With the hosts up 3-1, Sean Monahan’s shootout-like attempt rang off the post. The ensuing power play was fruitless.
The Flames were down 5-1 after two periods, prompting Peters to pull Smith to give David Rittich his first action of the year.
“It’s not on the goaltender at all – it’s on us in front of him,” said Peters of a keeper who saved 19 of 24 shots.
“We’re thinking of giving (backup David Rittich) the start in Colorado, so gave him some work ahead of that.”
Peters said he’ll take the positives of seeing Neal and Ryan get their first as Flames, while snakebitten Sam Bennett came awfully close … again.
The 2-2 Flames now head to Colorado to wrap up their three-game roadie Saturday.