Matthew Tkachuk took a long, deep breath before delivering his assessment of Saturday’s Slaughter of Alberta.
“That sucked,” said Tkachuk before repeating it.
“Let’s call a spade a spade here. That was probably one of the toughest moments since I’ve been here. The way things are going, it snowballed. It got out of hand pretty quickly.”
He was referring to the team’s 7-1 loss to the Oilers, but he may as well have been talking about the turn his team's season has taken.
“My one thought is I feel terrible for our goalies,” he added. “They come in and they battle every practice and every game and if it wasn’t for them who knows where we’d be. Pretty close to the bottom.”
No argument here.
After a month of masking the significant flaws in the Flames' games, Jacob Markstrom was pulled after allowing five goals for the second game in a row.
He fell victim to the obvious storyline of that night, which revolved around the brilliance of Connor McDavid.
When Tkachuk made his impassioned pledge to take centre stage in the Battle of Alberta Saturday morning, he apparently forgot who he was playing against.
Eight hours after Tkachuk’s lunchtime vow to do whatever he could to turn the Flames fortunes around, McDavid single-handedly stifled any hopes of a Flames rising.
In the midst of a spirited, emotional start by the Flames, the game’s best player had three goals and five points halfway through the evening.
He was the story, the Flames were the punchline.
“We played him as close to perfect as we could last game — you know a player like that isn’t going to let that happen two games in a row,” said Tkachuk, whose club held the league's leading scorer off the scoresheet in Friday’s 2-1 loss.
“As a group of 20 we should have been harder on him. I don’t know.”
The Flames have an entire room of players second-guessing things these days.
The only thing more humiliating than the score is the fact it ended up that way despite the fact the Flames showed up with a relatively solid effort in this one. The fire and physicality they’ve been sorely missing of late were there.
They simply made too many little mistakes, opening the door for the game’s most opportunistic player to take advantage.
The Markstrom magic that carried this team earlier needed to be upgraded to a Markstrom miracle to have a chance against McDavid’s brilliance as a finisher and playmaker.
As the Flames reel from their latest gut punch they’ll travel to Toronto to face the league-leading Leafs for two in a row.
Tkachuk certainly held up his promise to bring everything he had to the table, logging six hits and sending seven shots on goal as part of the Flames’ early barrage that saw them outshoot the Oilers 44-24. Tkachuk set up Andrew Mangiapane’s opening period goal with a crease-crashing effort that also led to a Flames power play when the Oilers lost their goalie interference challenge.
The Flames couldn't capitalize thanks to several Mikko Koskinen stops, setting the stage for McDavid to expand on Edmonton’s 3-1 first-period lead with a no-look snipe early in the second that will be replayed for decades.
Cue the snowball.
“I thought the emotional level was fine until after the fourth goal — it wavered after that but when you are a little bit fragile, these things happen,” said coach Geoff Ward, whose club has lost three in a row.
“The gaffes we give up are big ones and they’re coming at inopportune times. (McDavid) was obviously really, really good tonight. But we still need to be aware of that — if you give a good player enough time and space as we did tonight, usually that’s what happens.”
Auston Matthews now awaits, and Flames fans shudder.
NOTES: One night after being stapled to the bench for the third period, Sam Bennett was front and centre early on, knocking Slater Koekkoek out of the game with a hit/interference penalty that led to the Oilers opening goal three minutes in. Two seconds after the goal, he dropped the gloves at centre ice with Jujhar Khaira … Sean Monahan missed his second-straight game with a lower body injury, opening the door for Glenn Gawdin to make his NHL debut. It was a forgettable debut, as he only played six minutes and may have had his nose broken by Kris Russell in front of the net.