With five minutes left in a game the Flames trailed by one, Nikita Zadorov took out his frustrations by smashing his stick on the boards as he exited the ice.
No one wondered why.
Unable to generate much offensively all day long, his Calgary Flames posted their third loss in a row Saturday afternoon, capping an arduous six game road trip with an effort that looked like they very much ran out of gas.
Fact is, they were out of offence — a running theme this season.
A 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena saw the Flames finish their trip 2-3-1, scoring just three goals in their last three games.
The players and the coach insist the effort is there.
The execution isn’t.
“Games like that, where both teams are really battling to win a hockey game, I think you need that difference maker — the guy who is going to make the play to score a goal,” said Darryl Sutter, who was then asked if he knew who his game-breakers might be, like he did last year.
“You’re going a place you shouldn’t go.
“All you have to do is look. We had three 40-goal scorers on the team last year.
“It was quite a different operation.”
Indeed, it was, as Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm’s league-leading line was the difference on so many nights.
This year, the club has yet to find consistency from any line at all.
The defensive pairs have been a work in progress too.
Go ahead and debate what’s more glaring: the team’s scoring issues or its goaltending struggles.
The least of the club’s concerns Saturday was the netminding, as Dan Vladar was spectacular, turning aside eight high danger chances in the first period alone, to keep things close.
“Our goalie, he did a good job holding the fort,” said Sutter, asked to sum up the road trip.
“We got five (points) in six games, so we fell short.”
An Adam Ruzicka power play goal in the first tied the game 1-1, masking an otherwise lopsided period in which the ‘Canes outshot the visitors 14-8.
The Flames only managed to get 12 more shots the rest of the way, including four in a third period in which the teams were tied 2-2.
Yes, 20 shots on goal was a season low for a team averaging almost double that.
Not good enough.
One positive sign came in the form of Calgary’s game-tying goal late in the second, when a great chip pass by Mikael Backlund to Jonathan Huberdeau allowed the former Panthers playmaker to sprung Tyler Toffoli on a breakaway he finished with panache.
After that, the Flames rarely threatened in the third, aside from a Blake Coleman redirection off the crossbar.
With 11 minutes left, Brett Pesce walked in from the point and wired the winner past Vladar, whose team showed plenty of heart despite playing their second game in as many afternoons.
The lack of chemistry and, thus, lack of finish, has forced the coach to continue tinkering with lines, returning Huberdeau to the third unit Saturday and returning Ruzicka to Lindholm’s line.
“For our team to go forward we need our young guys to take a step,” said Sutter, when asked about Ruzicka.
Most others haven’t.
Is it time to shake things up by summoning red-hot AHL scorers Matthew Phillips or Jakob Pelletier?
Do they stick a little more with Vladar over Jacob Markstrom?
Can their five-game homestand help kick start their engines?
Could Tkachuk’s return to the Saddledome Tuesday stir up some much-needed emotion in the lads?
Could Sean Monahan’s visit Thursday have an impact?
Do the lines need even more revamping?
Or is it possible that six road games in 11 days is simply too much of an obstacle for a team to return with a .500 record.
That’s where they are overall, 9-9-3, which doesn’t measure up to the expectations of this revamped group.
Michael Stone, who returned to the lineup following a lengthy injury, insists frustration isn’t setting in.
“I didn’t feel that tonight,” Stone told Sportsnet Fan 960 after the game.
“We’re doing all the right things, we’re just not getting the results when we’re moving the puck. We’re just a little bit ahead or behind.”
Stone figured the difference Saturday was special teams, adding the penalties he and Blake Coleman took that led to Carolina’s pair of power play goals simply can’t be taken.
“We’re giving up too many real good chances,” said Stone, who played alongside Zadorov, while MacKenzie Weegar returned to playing with Chris Tanev.
The effort is there but the execution…
“We’ve just got to execute. We know where everyone is on the ice, we’ve just got to make the plays.”