CALGARY – Passed by the Nashville Predators, ghosted by the Winnipeg Jets and humbled by the Golden Knights.
Three clubs got the best of the Calgary Flames on Thursday, leaving only one group of lads who have themselves to blame.
In a season full of gut punches, this one may very well be the blow the Calgary Flames aren’t capable of getting up from.
Sure feels that way right now.
Their heads were bowed as they left the ice, their eyes fixed straight ahead as they tried their best to explain a devastating, 3-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The players suggested the most troubling part of the loss was coming out flat – devoid of desperation to open a game of this magnitude.
Focus issues are certainly problematic, which goes a long way towards explaining why this team just isn’t good enough.
Seventy-three games have certainly told that tale, as the team struggled alternatively between horrid goaltending and an inability to find the net.
The combo is deadly.
They lead the league in one-goal losses.
They’ve shattered the NHL record with 22 defeats while outshooting the opposition by ten or more.
They’ve yet to post a single third period comeback to win.
Even the league’s worst teams have found ways to dig a little deeper with games on the line, crafting third period comebacks the Flames have found so elusive.
Plenty of it points to the simple truth facing this team, as hinted at by Milan Lucic.
“When it’s big games, we need guys to step up and be big players, and we didn’t have that tonight from everyone,” he said.
They need goal scorers.
The loss of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau have proved too overwhelming for this team to overcome.
After Nazem Kadri’s first goal in 17 games got the Flames within one with seven-and-a-half minutes left Thursday night, there was still very little evidence from the past to suggest they’d complete the comeback.
Even when Vegas starter Logan Thompson had to lift himself from the game with six minutes left, the Flames still couldn’t come up with the type of grade A chances most teams cobble together with the goalie pulled.
MacKenzie Weegar had the best opportunity with exactly a minute left, but admittedly missed the shot, hitting Jonathan Quick with it.
“I thought we battled back, and that’s when you need someone to make a big play, score a goal,” said Sutter, echoing a sentiment he’s shared all season long as his two biggest guns scuffle along.
Kadri’s assimilation in Calgary has not gone smoothly, as the bulk of talk around town has revolved around an understandable beef with a coach who has cut the big free agent signing’s ice time of late.
It’s a problem and a story that isn’t going away anytime soon, with both coach and player trying to thinly gloss over it Thursday morning.
Jonathan Huberdeau’s story has been similar, with his agent doing well a few months back to suggest the coach has had more to do with his client’s production slide than the cold weather has.
Try as Tyler Toffoli might, his career season couldn’t overcome the struggles the team’s two highest-paid acquisitions have endured.
On Thursday, with the season on the line, the Flames fell behind 2-0 to the NHL’s hottest team since the all-star break.
All the desperation in the world isn’t enough for a team with this much internal turmoil and resulting top talent issues, to win with any regularity.
Thus, a season in which the longest winning streak of the season has been three games.
Yes, they outshot the Knights 44-32.
But they certainly didn’t outplay them, nor did they deserve to win.
And so, the Flames will return to work Friday six points back of the Jets with nine games left.
The Preds, are up by one point on the Flames with three games in hand.
The funeral march continues Saturday against the San Jose Sharks, as debate rages around town about how ugly things could get around here once the final nail is driven into the coffin.
No wonder focus is an issue on and off the ice.