Flames find small victories vs. Oilers, but pressure to play better remains

Jesse Puljujärvi scored his 5th of the season and Gaëtan Haas scored the game winner and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in the Battle of Alberta.

CALGARY - No one in Calgary is interested in small victories these days.

They don’t have a column in the standings for those.

Little wins were all the Flames had to show for in a 2-1 loss on Friday that will only serve to compound the angst and frustration being felt around these parts of late.

Yes, backup David Rittich finally got a chance to feel good about a start, but he finished with his eighth-straight loss dating back to last season.

The team showed resilience in battling back late in the second period to close the gap to 2-1, but they couldn’t finish the comeback.

Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid were both held off the scoresheet, but the rest of the Oilers found a way to get the only job that matters done.

“We made some progress in some areas but overall we still need to be better,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said.

“We can still give more in terms of trying to get it done.”

For the 11th time in 17 outings the Flames gave up the first goal, almost six minutes into a game in which the Flames had yet to register a shot.

Ho hum.

From there a game hyped as a battle was more of a chess match played in the neutral zone, where an emotionless no-hitter was tossed out for a national TV audience to wonder what all the hype was about.

Being entertaining is hardly on the Flames' wish list.

Playing with emotion should be at the top of it, especially for a team plagued by inconsistency and questioned for its work ethic.

“At points there was some, and at other points we need to have more desperation still,” said Ward when asked if he saw enough emotion from his troops.

“I think throughout we’ve got to find a way to generate a little bit more in terms of pushing ourselves forward.”

One player he saw enough of in the second period was Sam Bennett who saw six and a half minutes of ice time, none of which came in the third period.

His final shift came late in the second when Gaetan Haas and the Oilers fourth line scored the eventual game winner, marking the second time Bennett’s line had been scored on in the game.

“We’ll keep that internal,” said Ward when asked for an explanation for Bennett’s benching.

Pressed further on whether he’d seen a pattern from Bennett that prompted the move, Ward bristled.

“On other nights he’s been good, so I don’t think there’s a pattern there.”

There’s certainly an issue there, but the latest drama surrounding a third line player who asked for a trade is hardly a focal point in the midst of back-to-back provincial matchups.

No one would be surprised if he watched Saturday’s rematch in Edmonton on TV.

His entire line watched Jesse Puljujarvi open the scoring with a point-blank shot the red-hot Finn easily buried past Rittich. That one wasn’t on the goalie.

Yet, it set another sombre tone for a team that can’t figure out how to start on time.

“Somehow we still have got to find a way to get the first goal and play with the lead,” said Rasmus Andersson, Calgary’s goal scorer late in the second.

“We’re chasing the game. You’re not going to win a whole lot of games when you’re chasing from behind the whole time.”

With Sean Monahan’s lower body injury making him a surprise scratch, the Flames reassembled its best line from a year ago, putting Mikael Backlund with Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane.

Elias Lindholm was reunited with Johnny Gaudreau and played with Dillon Dube on their wing, while Bennett started with Milan Lucic and Brett Ritchie.

None of them could find a way to break through the Oilers neutral zone trap with enough regularity to make this a nail biter at the end.

The Flames’ best player was Rittich, who made 23 stops including a handful of big ones to keep the game within reach. He certainly needed a solid outing to start forming some semblance of confidence as the team looks to call on him throughout the six-game, 10-day roadie they embarked on after Friday’s game.

And maybe that’s the biggest victory for the Flames – they get to leave a town full of finger pointing and fury over a team scuffling along at .500.

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