Flames looking to find balance of aggressive play while staying out of the box

Ryan Leslie and Eric Francis tee up the Calgary Flames' Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, saying the team must find a way to slow down Connor McDavid and goaltender Jacob Markstrom is not solely to blame for his high goals-against totals.

EDMONTON – Nobody uses a press conference to send more messages than Darryl Sutter, and the Flames coach had one for the referees Sunday morning:

Asked about what changed in both games after Calgary built early leads, the Flames coach suggested overzealous officiating had plenty to do with it.

“The difference would be the officiating will get better as the series goes on,” said Sutter.

“The minor penalties in this series are 20-16 – that’s a little out of hand, I’d say. I don’t think either team is responsible for that. That’s ten per game. 

“Think about it, 36 minors in two games. I mean, how many times do you see multiple double minors?

“We should have pictures of the penalty box and see who is sitting there. Pretty unique for both teams. 

“That’s been the difference in the games. It’s the doubles and all that. It’s not normal.”

Subtle.

As the series unfolds, one thing we’re definitely seeing is Calgary’s advantage in size and aggression being turned against the Flames. 

The bigger, rougher Flames like to stand over a goalie and muck it up after the whistle. But in Game 2 Edmonton scored once on the powerplay and twice at four-on-four (one was disallowed). 

With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on their side, the Oilers will take as much four-on-four time as possible for the rest of the series. 

“You’ve got Connor and Leo playing together on that four-on-four,” said centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “They’re two tough guys to stop. We’ve had success there before …  As the series goes on. It's gonna become more and more important.” 

In the ’80s, when teams would play four-on-four after every set of coincidental minors, the NHL changed the rule. Today, where it takes a third minor to get down to four-on-four, it’s a rare bird — but one that favours Edmonton. 

“We’re one of the most disciplined teams in the National Hockey League,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We preach scrum discipline. We have people willing to take one for their team, and (Calgary’s) tactics are their tactics. 

“I think if you watch the games, you see who initiates a lot of things in scrums. We go to the net hard, we play between the whistles, keep our hands down, and the other team does what the other team does.” 

The teams played just 1:01 of four-on-four in Game 2, and Edmonton scored twice. A Draisaitl goal was called back, but McDavid scored 32 seconds later. In the regular season, Calgary was the tenth most penalized team, while Edmonton was 19th

“They’re a lot more skilled team than us when it comes to 5-on-4, or 4-on-4 and all those types of situations,” said Johnny Gaudreau.

“When we stick to 5-on-5, that’s when we play our best hockey. We’ve got to kind of stay out of the box here.”

The good news for the Flames is that they were in a similar situation the first three games against Dallas in round 1 and managed to stem the flow of penalties to turn that series around.

“I think our team last round we made an emphasis we have to start staying out of the box and we’re doing the same thing now as Game 3 and 4 come around,” said Gaudreau.

“I think we did a good job shutting it down. I don’t know if it was because the refs weren’t calling anything or we were doing a better job. But we did limit our penalties and I thought we played a lot better when we did that.”

Brett Kulak never saw Matt Tkachuk coming. 

Tkachuk crushed Kulak 5:44 into Game 2 when the Oilers defenceman was engaged along the boards with Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau.  

“Wasn’t expecting a guy to come from over there,” recalled Kulak. “I’m going back to the corner with a guy on my right and anticipating just making the battle with him. Then I just took a hit on the left side. 

“I don't know if it was to my advantage that I didn't even know a guy was coming there. I just went down so easily.” 

You’ll recall Tkachuk steam-rolling Zack Kassian on similar hits a couple of years ago, catching the big winger when he was otherwise engaged. At six-foot-two, 200 lbs., Tkachuk can do damage when he gets an opponent in his sights, and you know it won’t stop in Game 3 and beyond. 

“In the playoffs, you’ve got to earn it every shift. It’s not easy,” said Kulak, who went four rounds with the Montreal Canadiens last spring. “(The hits) just pile up, and it just keeps getting harder as you go. It kind of comes down to who wants it more on each team. Who’s going to take more of those, give more of those, stay focused and get the job done.” 

Chris Tanev skated for the Flames Sunday morning. 

Here are lines from last game: 

Kane          McDavid   Draisaitl 

Hyman      RNH          Puljujarvi   

Foegele     McLeod     Yamamoto 

Archibald  Ryan          Kassian 

Nurse         Ceci 

Keith         Bouchard 

Kulak        Barrie 

Smith 

Gaudreau   Lindholm  Tkachuk 

Coleman    Backlund   Mangiapane 

Dube         Jarnkrok    Toffoli 

Lucic         Lewis        Ritchie 

Hanafin     Andersson 

Kylington  Stone 

Zadorov     Gudbranson 

Markstrom 

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