The coach called some of his players dopey and blamed several bad penalties on the loss.
Fact is, the minutiae of the Calgary Flames’ latest in a string of four losses is irrelevant, as it’s just a slightly different spin on the same old story of late.
How they lost is secondary to figuring out how this group can possibly keep the faith -- not just that it can pull off a miracle to get back into the playoff race, but that it can somehow find ways to score goals again under their new structure.
A 3-2 loss Friday to a formidable Winnipeg squad puts the Flames' goal tally at four over their last four outings, leaving them four points back of fourth-place Montreal, which has four games in hand.
At a scoring clip like that Jacques Plante couldn’t save this bunch.
Both Flames goals came from redirects two feet from the goal line, on a night when the Flames had just five high danger scoring chances.
The Jets had nine.
Don’t pay attention to the score -- this one wasn’t close.
Perhaps the game -- and the Flames' situation these days -- was best summed up by a solid opening eight minutes in which the Flames only managed to muster a single shot on goal.
Their anemic offence, which is now based around winning puck battles following dump-ins, isn’t generating any semblance of sustained pressure of late.
“You’ve got to play with pace,” said Sutter when asked about how his players can maintain belief in a system they haven’t had any success with of late. “The system, all it is, is faster than the one they were playing, and that’s difficult to grasp. It has nothing to do with anything else. The scoring chances were on the forecheck and very little on the rush, which indicates the puck isn’t moving fast enough or some of our players aren’t.”
Yet, there were the Flames, fighting back from a 2-0 second intermission deficit, to make it interesting after Milan Lucic had one pinball off him and Josh Morrissey in the crease with 13 minutes left.
With eight minutes remaining Lucic was whistled for boarding Mason Appleton, drawing attention from Neal Pionk, who was promptly decked by a Lucic right hand.
While Lucic served four minutes in the box Jacob Markstrom complicated comeback efforts by firing the puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty that gave one of the NHL’s best power plays an easy five-on-three goal by Paul Stastny.
That goal stood as the game-winner, as a Matthew Tkachuk goal with the goalie pulled and two minutes remaining, created a façade this one was a nail biter.
Not in the least.
“The five-on-three is clearly the difference in the game,” said Sutter, who could be seen behind the bench vehemently disagreeing with the extra roughing call Lucic received.
“Obviously tonight the difference is we took a dumb high sticking penalty (by Dillon Dube) and they scored on it right away (10 minutes into the game), then we took a shoot it out of play for a five-on-three.
“We had some real dopey players in the first period -- it cost us the game. We had some dopey players who didn’t wake up until we were down a goal, which is unfortunate. The urgency is there when we’re down a goal but you have to have the strength and mental toughness to play through that. You don’t always have the lead.”
Illustrating his point is the fact the Flames had just 13 shots on goal after two periods before perking up for the third period with a level of desperation missing in the opening 40.
Sutter has certainly fixed the team’s glaring work ethic issues since he’s arrived, but the trade-off is that an increased demand on details appears to be affecting the creativity and finish of a team that rarely looks dangerous offensively anymore.
The Flames, who are now 4-5 under Sutter, host Winnipeg again Saturday and Monday.
“Lose another one-goal game,” said a pensive Lucic, whose post-game body language understandably suggested this team is out of answers and, likely, hope.
“It sucks because we’re running out of time and running out of games. We’ve got to start getting in the win column if we’re going to have any sort of chance.”
To do that they'll have to figure out how to get it in the net first.