CALGARY — “I don’t even know where to start,” said Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. “I think we have to re-look at everything.”
Gulutzan’s team had just been hammered 7-3 by the hated Edmonton Oilers but the game score does not come close to telling the whole story.
Edmonton officially passed Calgary Saturday night, in both the macro and micro sense of the word.
The Oilers moved nine points ahead of the Flames in the standings and will not be caught by their rivals this season. In the bigger picture, Edmonton is where Calgary was supposed to be by now, well on their way to being a top-10 National Hockey League team with an long and bright future.
Calgary has been the better franchise for many years. They are not anymore, and are firmly in the chase position from this point forward.
“We had a chance to close the gap a bit,” said captain Mark Giordano. “There was a lot riding on this game.”
The Flames are stalled for now, trying to figure out how to be any good in front of sub-par goaltending, wondering if leaders like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are the real deal, truly able to carry this team beyond its current state.
On a Southern Alberta Saturday night, Edmonton handled the Flames on Hockey Night in Canada the way a steer wrestler handles a skinny calf. Up, down, tied and time.
“It’s a weird game,” said Connor McDavid, who had but one point on the night. “I think that was a little bit more open than they want to play, but being down three early, you kind of have to go. We found a way to score a few early and that kind of forced them to open up.”
Anton Slepyshev rifled a wrister past Chad Johnson just 77 seconds into the tilt. Then Zack Kassian made a lovely pass from behind the net to Mark Letestu at 5:22, and 36 seconds after that Jordan Eberle squeezed one by short-side on Johnson.
After goals on three of the first four shots, Johnson was on the Flames’ bench in favour of Brian Elliott, whom Calgary has little faith in. The Flames have had major goaltending issues this season and they were exacerbated Saturday, as Johnson stopped Edmonton’s first shot of the evening, then felt the next three blister past.
“I felt ready,” said Johnson, a Calgary kid making his first ever start in The Battle. Alas, it was more Reggie Lemelin than Miikka Kiprusoff.
“Just four shots and [I] made one save?” he said. “Let three goals in? It was really not what I had in mind, or what anybody pictured it to be.”
Ironically, the pre-game goaltending concerns lied up north, where Oilers fans wondered if they were throwing the two points away by giving AHL call-up Laurent Brossoit his first start of the season. In the end, Brossoit was by far the best goalie in the game, beaten by two deflections and a Monahan breakaway, earning his first career NHL victory.
“Last year I had an opportunity and I didn’t make it work so I put a lot of work in to make sure this is the last time I get a call up,” said Brossoit, a former Flames draft pick who was traded to Edmonton for Ladislav Smid and parts.
With Jonas Gustavsson well out of the Oilers’ plans, Broissoit is here to stay.
“I’m going to be patient,” he said. “I’m not trying to win a starting spot this year. I know my role and I’m just going to work hard in practices and be ready for opportunities like this to play.”
Here’s a stat that’s hard to believe: the victory marks the first time since 1985-86 that the Oilers have swept the season series, winning all four games — one in a shootout, the other three in regulation.
Calgary swept the season series 6-0 in 2009-10, and won all five games in 2014-15. The closest Edmonton came was in 1983-84 — Edmonton’s first Stanley Cup season — when they went 7-0-1 against the Flames.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Gulutzan. “It’s embarrassing. Our resolve to stick to it wasn’t there.”
Calgary’s a wild card team at best now, while the Oilers are well in contention for the Pacific Division lead.
It’s a big change in Alberta, and it won’t be changing back soon.