The last time the Calgary Flames won a season opener, current assistant GM Craig Conroy was manning the middle of the ice and Miikka Kiprusoff stood tall in net.
The year was 2009.
The hope in Thursday’s season opener was that a man who stands much taller – six-foot-six, in fact – could help snap a string of first night futility only one team in NHL history has suffered through longer.
Alas, Jacob Markstrom couldn’t overcome history and a pair of sloppy periods to change the Flames’ fortunes.
The Six Million Dollar Man did, however, make a Kiprusoff-like snare with three minutes to go that at least preserved a loser point in a 4-3 overtime setback in Winnipeg.
“That was a huge stop,” said Flames coach Geoff Ward of a glove save on Mark Scheifele by a sliding Markstrom that capped a mad scramble in front of his net.
“That’s all you can ask of your goalie, that he gives you a chance to win and he did that. He made some big saves. The way the second and third period went, you could probably say we stole a point on the road.”
The bulk of Markstrom’s 30 saves came in the latter two periods after the Flames opened with a 3-1 lead in the first that had hockey-starved Calgarians buzzing over this season’s possibilities.
Rasmus Andersson almost got in on the action too by taking a pass from Sam Bennett on the rush, deking around Connor Hellebuyck and firing it towards an empty net that was protected at the last second by former Flames defenceman Derek Forbort. Seconds later Patrik Laine had his first of two on the night, reminding the Flames how quickly things can turn.
That turnabout became fair play early in the second when a Milan Lucic giveaway in his own zone allowed Scheifele to bang in a rebound that shifted the game’s complexion.
Three Flames penalties in the period led to a Kyle Connor goal scored with the Flames down two men, sending the game into the third tied 3-3.
Just before the period’s end, Connor was hit awkwardly into the board by Noah Hanifin, prompting Laine and Tkachuk to try roughing one another up, exchanging words on their way to their dressing rooms. Alas, there was no other spillover from last summer’s heated play-in series.
“The way we played in the first – that’s how we want to look, but we got off our game,” said Lindholm, who made a pretty pass to set up Gaudreau’s power play goal.
“We did good in the first getting pucks in deep and coming with speed together, but those are the things we didn’t do in the second and third. We’ve got to be better. Overall I didn’t think we played good enough to win. (Markstrom) saved us at least a point tonight so all the credit to him.”
The Jets outshot Calgary 26-13 in the final two periods and 2-0 in overtime, which included a one-timer by Josh Morrissey in tight that required a stellar sliding save by Markstrom to prolong the evening by a couple dozen seconds longer.
“We got off on a really hot start and played well in the first – too bad we couldn’t continue it,” said Andersson, whose play was a bright spot for the Flames as the team’s new power play quarterback logged 24 minutes of ice time – two minutes more than any other Flame.
“You play a good team and you’ve got to expect them to come out in the second with a big push. They scored the first shift of the second period and obviously that was the big momentum shift.”
The Flames are now 0-9-2 their last 11 openers, leaving them just one more loss away from tying the winless record held by the Detroit Red Wings from 1982-94.
• An hour before puck drop, the Flames announced David Rittich would miss the game to deal with a family issue. He remained in Calgary when the team left Wednesday and could rejoin the club as early as Friday. Louis Domingue came off the taxi squad to be Markstrom’s backup, while Artyom Zagidulin was papered as a call up to the taxi squad.
• Derek Ryan was also summoned from the taxi squad to play on the right side of the third line, in lieu of Dominik Simon.
• Playing an NHL game for the first time since December 2019 due to knee surgery, Josh Leivo played alongside Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. He had a chance to extend Calgary’s first period lead but was stopped in alone.
• Another newbie, Joakim Nordstrom, also got in alone in the second while killing a penalty, but shot the puck wide.
• Bennett showed plenty of signs of the moxie he showed in the summer playoffs, driving to the net and winning battles while centering Lucic and Nordstrom on the fourth line.
• Flames host Vancouver Saturday at the Dome for the first of two games in three nights against the Canucks.