Flames Takeaways: Sutter still searching for that elusive Top 6 winger

Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring and Brett Kulak buried the game-winning goal to help the Edmonton Oilers defeat the Calgary Flames 2-1.

Much has been made about the gaping hole in the Calgary Flames’ top six.

Expect to hear plenty more about it, as the Help Wanted sign is still being hung by the coach.

“There is nobody that has stepped out,” confirmed Darryl Sutter, in search of someone to ride shotgun on the right side of the team’s second line.

“It’s still in the very same position it was when camp started, very same. A lot of that is because Naz (Nazem Kadri) hasn’t played. It’s who fits (as wingers) with Naz and Lindy (Elias Lindholm), very clear.”

For the third straight pre-season game Sonny Milano failed to impress on Friday in Edmonton, meaning time is running out for the 26-year-old to extend his stay on a PTO. 

“He’s got to take advantage of his ice time,” said Sutter. “Bottom line is, maximize your skill set. If you’re only at 75 per cent, it’s not going to happen.”

Milano admitted Friday he can “be a little better,” and is well aware he has to put the puck in the net.

He came close Friday with a dangerous shot from the high slot turned away by Calvin Pickard.

Flames GM Brad Treliving said before camp he would be keeping his eyes and ears open throughout camp for options on the wing, but that he wanted to see what he had in-house first.

So far, not much.

Tyler Toffoli has yet to mesh with Jonathan Huberdeau and Lindholm, but Sutter has alluded to the fact the top trio will take lots of time to build chemistry.

Fact is, the answer to the team’s second-line vacancy alongside Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane may be right in front of them, in the form of Dillon Dube.

Dube was the lone Flames scorer in Friday’s 2-1 loss in Edmonton, against a veteran Oilers squad that had all its top guns in the lineup. 

Repeating as the team’s fittest player in testing, and building off an 18-goal campaign last season, Dube is worthy of a second-line audition.

Twelve of his goals came in the final 23 games last season, drawing praise from the coach who was impressed by the versatile 24-year-old’s finish.

A speedy, left-shooting forward who has spent plenty of time patrolling the right side, Dube made a great play to set linemate Kevin Rooney up with a golden scoring chance in the third period Friday.

He’s been flying throughout the pre-season and has spoken of his desire to become more of a leader for the youngsters on the team.

This could be his chance.

Last year it was Mangiapane who went from an 18-goal scorer to a 35-goal man.

Where might Dube land if he’s given a similar shot?

VLADAR THE STAR

The game’s first star Friday was clearly Dan Vladar, continuing a trend this pre-season of spectacular netminding by Calgary’s trio of talented puck stoppers.

Against a team Jacob Markstrom struggled against last season, Vladar was spectacular, denying Connor McDavid in tight three times, and making 18 of his 36 saves against a potent quartet of Zach Hyman, Leon Draisaitl, McDavid and Evander Kane.

The difference in the game was a seeing-eye point blast by Brett Kulak, which broke a 1-1 tie midway through the third.

“It’s clearly our strongest position organization-wise,” said Sutter, whose club allowed the third-fewest goals last season, and may be even stingier this year.

“All three have been outstanding, right through.”

To his point, Markstrom has saved all 14 shots he’s faced this pre-season, Dustin Wolf has a 1.45 GAA and .946 save percentage and Vladar entered the game with a 1.23 GAA and .959 save percentage.

NOTES

• Michael Stone continues to be one of the biggest stories of the pre-season for the Flames, playing well again Friday and building on his case to be signed to a contract. He was second only to Rasmus Andersson in ice time Friday (23:53) and leads the team in shots this pre-season (12) as well as goals (tied with two others at two) and points (tied with two others at three).

He made a great sliding play to break up a dangerous 2-on-1 and made for a solid partner with Connor Mackey, who had his best game of the pre-season.   

• Darnell Nurse, who didn’t have a fight all last season, took exception to a high hit by Mitch McLain on Kane in the second period and dropped the mitts with the Flames farmhand, who held his own in the brief exchange.

The lads apparently didn’t get it out of their system, so they went at it again in the late stages, which is a real testament to McLain, who wins by virtue of dragging the $9.25 million defenceman into the exchange. He’s had a nice camp, which also includes a goal and an assist.

• The biggest hit of the game was a mid-ice collision between McDavid and Kane, which had an impressive crowd at Rogers Place holding its collective breath as the two slowly got to their feet.  

• The Flames get their first day off of training camp Saturday and host Seattle Monday.

LINES

Forwards

Huberdeau—Ruzicka—Toffoli

Dube—Rooney—Eakin

Zary—Schwindt—Milano

McLain—Bishop—Duehr

Defencemen

Hanifin—Andersson

Mackey—Stone

Valimaki—Meloche

Goalies

Vladar

Wolf

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