“We had some guys who came for a visit, not to try and win a hockey game,” spat Darryl Sutter, alluding to the catered Columbus confab that preceded a 3-1 loss.
Almost as disappointing as news AHL call-up Matthew Phillips wouldn’t be dressing, contrary to what his morning skate assignment suggested.
More on that later.
But first, we’ll start with how the hosts’ first shot on goal triggered the most annoying cannon since Nick.
Hardly the confidence-booster Jacob Markstrom was looking for after taking three games off to try to rebuild his faith and form.
It came one minute in, courtesy of a Patrik Laine breakaway he finished with a snipe under Markstrom’s glove.
Pretty tough assignment to open with a one-on-one staredown with one of the most gifted finishers in the game.
The fact that it marked the league-leading sixth time he’d allowed the first shot of the game in is hardly fair to pin on him.
But that’s what the record will show.
“They scored right away, first shot,” said Markstrom. “It obviously would be nice to come in, and not have us chase the game after that. That didn’t happen.”
The second and final goal on Markstrom came early in the second, courtesy of a breakaway by Eric Robinson, the brother of former Flames hopeful Buddy, who shot it over Markstrom’s glove.
The play began at the Blue Jackets’ blue line where MacKenzie Weegar fumbled a pass Robinson gobbled up.
“It’s a bad play – just a good old-fashioned f—- pizza,” said Weegar, who later got a trio of third-period penalties, including one for unsportsmanlike conduct that likely had to do with his language.
“I’ll take full responsibility on that last one. Tough play in the second period and we got chasing for the rest of the game. In the box a lot. Just a s— effort from myself.”
Sutter concurred, pinning the loss on a blue line brigade he figured only had Chris Tanev in form.
“I think our defence struggled mightily with the puck, and in coverage, for the whole game,” said Sutter, clearly unimpressed with a setback against one of the league’s youngest and worst outfits. “These guys have roles, and they all play different types of games, and they have to maximize it.
“They obviously didn’t prepare for that tonight. … The big guys thought they were wheelers and dealers, and the guys who are wheelers and dealers wouldn’t touch anybody. … So, that’s the way she goes.”
The way she went all night revolved around a constant series of turnovers that also sent the Jackets in on a two-on-none and a pair of two-on-ones to go with the breakaways.
“Marky, he was the only one that really kept us in that game – he played unbelievable, and I think we let him down tonight,” said Weegar.
“We hung our goalie out to dry a little too much, I’d say,” added Stone, who scored with two-and-a-half minutes left with the extra attacker on, to make it a 2-1 game the Jackets closed out with a Sen Kuraly empty netter. “We gave up way too many really good chances. Breakaways. Two-on-ones. Everything.”
The evening was supposed to be all about Gaudreau, as the longtime Flame faced his former club for the first time since signing with the Blue Jackets.
He was held scoreless, and outside of a great pass to Laine that forced Markstrom to stack the pads with a spectacular save midway through the first period, he rarely demonstrated the type of brilliance that earned him a seven-year, $68-million deal.
He’ll officially conclude this season’s never-ending series of homecomings Jan. 23 when he visits Calgary for the first time as a Blue Jacket.
“That’s probably its own animal,” laughed Gaudreau, who had two shots on goal while being checked closely by Elias Lindholm’s line. “But I can enjoy this tonight, enjoy my teammates back there.
“It was special. I’m glad we got the win. A lot of guys knew how important, how special, this game was to me. I didn’t even have the best game that I’m capable of, but a lot of guys stepped up tonight and helped us get a win. So, very thankful and it was a fun game to be a part of.”
One of the only positives for the Flames is that they’ll get a chance to atone Saturday night in Toronto.
“It’s a loss – I don’t care if I played good, but we lost,” said Markstrom, who finished with 24 saves. “I get nothing for that. … I feel good when we win.
“I have to be better.”
The day started with so much optimism, as Flames fans rejoiced after hearing Phillips appeared destined to crack the lineup.
Called up Thursday, the AHL’s leading scorer took line rushes in the morning skate alongside Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis.
While no one was thrilled about the possibility the diminutive, highly-skilled winger might patrol the fourth line, he politely answered questions about the thrill of the call-up and how his game wouldn’t have to change on the fourth line.
Given Sutter’s strict insistence on refusing to address lineup questions, it was assumed Phillips would get the start ahead of Brett Ritchie – a notion the coach refused to dispel despite the obvious line of questioning.
Hours later, once Kevin Rooney cleared waivers to complete his demotion, the Flames were able to announce Radim Zohorna was also called up, setting the stage for the 6-foot-6 Czech prospect to make his Flames debut, at Phillips’ expense.
“Centreman, simple,” explained Sutter after a game in which Zohorna’s screen played a role in Stone’s goal. “We made that decision yesterday.”
Phillips confirmed from the press box he was told Thursday that dressing Friday wasn’t in the cards.
They’d rather use him in a top-six role in which he stands a chance at succeeding.