Here’s the thing about Bingo.
If you don’t take advantage of the free space in the middle of the card, you’re increasing the odds of everyone else around you.
To simply keep pace with division rivals, wins over the last-place Senators are a must, which is why the Flames’ season may very well hang in the balance over their next three games.
A Saturday matchup against the Edmonton Oilers is bookended by visits from a Senators team that just took the Flames’ lunch money once again.
A 5-1 loss Monday, combined with a 6-1 defeat Thursday, saw the rebuilding Senators outscore the Flames 14-8 over three games.
Sure the Senators are a hard-working squad that has improved steadily of late, winning six of their last nine.
But they’re still the Senators, a team the Oilers beat all four meetings, the Vancouver Canucks beat all three meetings and the Jets topped in four of five.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 3-1-1 against their provincial rivals, leaving the sinking Montreal Canadiens as the only team that has played them to a draw at 1-1-2.
Then there are the sad-sack Flames, who lead the league in losses to last-place teams, giveaways and consecutive defeats while scoring just a single goal.
They increased that last dubious record to seven games Monday.
“All the teams in this division are good — there’s not much of a difference from the top teams to the bottom,” said Elias Lindholm, whose club escaped the first period with a scoreless draw before being outshot 22-6 in the second.
“Today, our first period was pretty solid and everything we did good in the first we did the opposite in the second and third. I think our patience out there was pretty bad and we started making some tough plays and turning pucks over — the kind of things we need to stop doing.”
The Senators opened the scoring after Sam Bennett was unable to handle a bad pass in the neutral zone from Milan Lucic.
Drake Batherson’s first of two goals put the Senators up 2-0 before a Lucic power-play marker lifted the Flames’ hopes. Briefly.
Eighty-four seconds later David Rittich got in on the giveaway game by mishandling a dump-in he promptly batted to Batherson, whose shot deflected in off of Mark Giordano as the Flames netminder tried scrambling back into the net.
It was another in the growing collection of moments that deflated the Flames’ bench and made it tough to create any offence as Ottawa sat on the lead and padded the humiliation with an empty-netter and a late deflection.
“We’ve got to come up with the solutions ourselves,” said coach Geoff Ward, whose team now sits closer to last place than it does to second-place Edmonton.
“As a team, we’ve got to be more committed to playing the game the right way. We’ve got to make sure we don’t let things compound. When something happens that’s not the way we want it to be we can’t fall back — we have to get a push in the right direction. Right now, when things are rolling the way they are for us, I think the confidence gets a little fragile and things start to compound, and we’ve got to find a way to make it turn the corner the other way.”
The Flames finish their gruelling, six-game roadie 2-3-1 and return to host Ottawa on Thursday having lost seven of their last 10.
Moral and consistency issues abound.
The players are struggling to come up with answers to the same old questions, and Matthew Tkachuk was so despondent after the latest setback he couldn’t muster up any of the fury you’d expect to hear from a leader on a team slipping closer and closer to losing control on the season.
“The easy answer is we’re at 10-11-2,” said Tkachuk when asked where his team was at.
“We’ve got to figure this out in the next two days before we play them again. We’re getting way too used to games where we’re down a couple in the third.”
Especially against teams previously considered the free spot on the Bingo card.