Mike Smith lets down Flames as early struggles continue

Matthew Tkachuk scored two goals, but it wasn’t enough as the Montreal Canadiens come out on top of the Calgary Flames 3-2.

CALGARY – Well, at least the Calgary Flames know who their starting goalie will be Saturday.

Not Mike Smith.

At the tail end of a visit from the Montreal Canadiens that the Flames were dominating, the veteran netminder let in yet another goal that rhymes with Smitty.

This time it was a weak Artturi Lehkonen wrister from above the faceoff dot that somehow slid under the pads of Smith for the game-winner with under eight minutes remaining.

The Flames were outshooting the Habs 39-22 at the time and couldn’t solve Carey Price for the equalizer, despite a late push.

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After the 3-2 loss, the embattled Flames netminder stood square to the media and owned the gaffe.

“Bad goal, bad timing,” spat the disgusted, disheartened vet.

“I honestly have no idea how that went in. It’s obviously a goal that can’t happen. I’m as mind-boggled as you guys are right now probably.

“It’s obviously disappointing. When you feel like you let your team down it’s probably the biggest frustration, disappointment that ever can happen in your career when you drop the ball.

“Our team played such a great game tonight and deserved a lot better fate, and when something happens like that and it’s on you it’s disappointing. It feels like you let your whole team down.”

It was yet another emotional admission from the 36-year-old who, to his credit, has admitted throughout the shaky start to his season he needs to be better.

None of those were as raw as the one that followed Thursday’s heartache.

“I’ve worked so hard to try to find it and get it back and get the confidence going again and when something happens like that you kind of go, ‘Why?’” he said.

“I have no idea how that went through me there. Kind of a head-scratcher, but I’ll try to get some sleep tonight, work at it and keep pushing.”

His push will most certainly be limited to Friday’s practice, as David Rittich will undoubtedly take his turn in net Saturday when the season’s first Battle of Alberta installment is waged at the Dome.

Rittich is 5-1 with a 1.91 GAA and .935 save percentage.

Smith is now 5-7-1 and entered the game with a 3.51 GAA and .877 stop rate.

The goaltending situation has even trumped Olympic talk in town all season, as locals have all but given up on Smith, who is in the final year of his contract.

Coach Bill Peters has tried hard to help Smith play his way through the pain, which seemed to be paying off of late.

A 3-1 loss in San Jose Sunday was one of Smith’s best outings of the year, earning him Thursday’s assignment.

Up until the third period Smith seemed in control, preserving a 2-1 lead until Jonathan Drouin tied it eight minutes in with a rebound you couldn’t fault Smith on.

Four minutes later it all fell apart with one bad goal.

“I felt great,” he said of a start that included a game-opening goal by Tomas Tatar eight minutes in that bounced off Smith’s chest and in.

“I felt like I was coming back. Felt like I had strung a nice week together of practice and play and obviously it’s tough to swallow right now.”

Ditto for his teammates, who stood by the man they’ll need to rebound in some capacity if this team is to challenge for a playoff spot.

“You ever had a bad day at work?” said Travis Hamonic, defending a netminder they blocked 20 shots for.

“Not fair at all. Everyone that’s going to say (it’s Smith’s fault) has bad days at work too. Not fair.”

Captain Mark Giordano did his best to offer similar support, but there was no hiding how it all unravelled with one key whiff by a goalie desperate to find his way.

“We all know that that’s going to be the focus, but we had a lot of looks, especially when it was 2-1 for us,” said Giordano, whose team outshot Montreal 45-22 and seemed in control after two Matthew Tkachuk goals in the second period.

“We hit a couple posts there but they found a way. It was a weird shot, it rolled – we saw it from the bench – it dipped. We have to respond from those moments.”

They tried, but Price returned to being, well Carey Price.

For the bulk of the evening it was clearly a tale of two fragile veteran goalies who seemed to finally be getting back on track.

Only one managed to see it through.

“Very, very tough – one where you want the better outcome for sure,” said Tkachuk, who took the team scoring lead with his ninth goal and 21st point.

“I think that (game-winner) was kind of a weird one – it came off the stick, I know as a shooter it looked like it was kind of on edge and I don’t know if it dipped or maybe hit a stick. But he’s bailed our team out multiple times and bailed me out multiple times, so that’s definitely the least of my worries.”

It’s at the top of the list of concerns for the organization and its fans.

And that isn’t expected to change anytime soon.


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