CALGARY – It appeared, for a good chunk of the evening, to be a textbook approach to how the Calgary Flames should best play against the Edmonton Oilers.
But in the end, it was a different book Darryl Sutter cited when spelling out exactly how his club let this one get away.
“In a 1-1 game… you look up holding in the dictionary, that’s holding,” he said, following a highly entertaining 2-1 loss to the visiting Albertans.
“So then you put it in whose hands?”
Calgarians know who.
They’ve seen this act before – a one-man play that has the world’s best player undoing the Flames’ best-laid plans.
On this night Connor McDavid did it with his first and only shot on a goal, an early third-period snipe off the inside of the post no goalie in today’s NHL is capable of stopping given the time and proximity to the net No. 97 was afforded.
After being neutralized for 47 minutes before that, he was able to gain such real estate by way of a power play earned when Andrew Mangiapane chose to twice reach around, albeit gently, on Darnell Nurse as he rode him into the boards a mere 190 feet from his own net.
It was Mangiapane’s second offensive zone transgression of the game, and third of the night for a Flames team well aware the Oilers are on pace to set an NHL record by scoring on one of every three power plays they’re handed.
Cue McDavid, to ruin an otherwise solid evening for the Flames and a netminder who’d previously appeared poised to snap the rather notorious five-game losing skid he’s had against Edmonton.
This was not on him.
This was all courtesy of a gift handed over by Mangiapane, who kept asking the official on the way to the box, “what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, I’ve got to watch it again,” said Mangiapane, when asked what his case was.
“I don’t really have much knowledge on it, it happens fast. I’ll watch it over and figure it out.
“It sucks. You never want to put your team down a man. So it’s tough. But it happens.”
Happens plenty in Calgary, where the Flames lead the NHL in penalties taken – a bad idea against the Oil.
It’s often a product of a fierce forecheck Sutter demands as part of the team’s identity, which was the case on both of Mangiapane’s infractions.
It’s often the difference when Edmonton plays Calgary.
Heck, when anyone plays Edmonton, as the Oilers are currently on pace to set a new NHL power play standard with an unheard-of 32.3% efficiency.
“Ya, if you look at the games we’ve played this year, they’ve scored one power play goal every game and that’s been the difference in the last two games,” said Mikael Backlund, the Flames’ lone goal scorer in a 2-1 loss to wrap up the season series 2-1.
“We had a chance to get the puck out, we didn’t.
“Then we gave Connor a lot of time in the middle and he executed. We can’t give him that much room and time in the middle – that’s what he’s going to do.”
Backlund wasn’t interested in taking any solace from the fact his team did a great job smothering McDavid and Draisaitl most of the night, until that point.
“Yes, but we’ve done that before, and when you do that especially that’s when you’ve got to bear down and win those games,” said Backlund, whose club outshot the visitors 47-22.
“It’s tough losing to our biggest rivals.”
Backlund hit the post with 4.5 seconds remaining, ending the evening for Dome dwellers with a collective groan.
“It would have been a great feeling scoring there, but it’s almost worse hitting the post than him making the save,” he said.
“Inches away from tying it.”
Fact is, the one they should feel sorriest for was Markstrom, who was spectacular, especially during a second-period penalty kill in which he made three consecutive showstoppers on Draisaitl that eventually brought a good chunk of the patrons to their feet.
“I think both goalies made a lot of important saves,” said Sutter, whose club was leapfrogged by the Oilers for the final wild card spot with the win.
“It was obviously a really close game, a lot of missed opportunities on our part. Five-on-five, I think we outplayed them. We just didn’t score.”
Hit the iron a few times, but were otherwise victimized by an emerging Stuart Skinner, who has now stopped 117 of 120 shots he faced in the three games against Calgary.
He was the star, in a game in which every single Flame recorded a shot on goal.
“We have to figure out a way to come away with these wins, these important points,” said Mangiapane.
“We were close again in this one but we have to figure out a way to win.”
The solution is simple – stay out of the penalty box.