No team in the NHL has allowed more goals than the Ottawa Senators.
Not even close.
Yet, there were the Calgary Flames, in the teeth of a desperate playoff push, unable once again to solve the division’s worst team.
Facing a 22-year-old rookie goaltender, the Flames turned his first NHL start into a masterpiece. Turning aside 35 shots in a 2-1 win over the Flames, fourth-stringer Filip Gustavsson earned his first win, and with it, the game puck that generally comes with it.
So frustrated by a game that saw the Flames throw 71 shot attempts at a suddenly stifling Senators squad, Rasmus Andersson punctuated Calgary’s second-straight loss by deciding he wasn’t willing to cough up the rubber keepsake for his fellow Swede.
As Brady Tkachuk skated down the ice, imploring the Flames defenceman to reconsider, Andersson eventually dropped the puck near the Flames bench, allowing Matthew Tkachuk to slap it away from his younger sibling.
Not a great look.
The hits just keep on coming for a Flames team starting to come to grips with the fact their season is on the brink with a staggering 23 games remaining.
Losing four of six to the youngest team in the division will help do that to a club.
And while defensive lapses led to both Ottawa goals, including Chris Tierney’s tie-breaking rebound with 2:36 remaining, this one was all about how inept Calgary’s offence has become.
“This team has some trouble scoring goals, this is a not a two-game thing — I don’t know where that comes from,” said Darryl Sutter, whose team went more than 120 minutes without a goal before Johnny Gaudreau gave his club brief life with a breakaway finish with five minutes left.
“This team has to check for chances and check well to have a chance to win. You want to be a playoff team, you’ve got to win 2-1 games. That’s the way it works.”
Gaudreau said after the game the coach’s new tight-checking system has nothing to do with stymieing Calgary’s 23rd-ranked offence.
“No, we had trouble scoring a few times throughout this season even with Geoff (Ward),” said Gaudreau, who hadn’t scored an even-strength goal since Feb. 11.
“We need to bear down on our chances. We’ve just got to finish. It has nothing to do with systems or anything like that.”
Here is the scariest revelation of all Monday night – the Flames felt they played well.
“I thought we were playing well and playing a lot in their zone,” said Gaudreau, who figured the team needed more traffic in front of Gustavsson, who rarely had to come up with big saves on second or third chances.
“Kind of looking back through the game, most shots from the point the goalie saw or they didn’t get through. Couple odd man rushes didn’t hit the net. We still had 30-something shots but we made it too easy on their goalie. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Asked how the players were when he made his post-game visit, Sutter was coy.
“They’re probably tired,” said Sutter, who figures his club has to go 16-7 the rest of the way, starting with a rare 3 p.m. MT start Wednesday in Ottawa again.
“I think we directed 70-some pucks at their net tonight, so eventually they’ll go in. I would say our top two lines in terms of scoring are going to have to produce higher-level scoring chances. But other than that, there’s not much to complain about. The effort is there, and we played almost a perfect road game. We made a couple mistakes and we need (Jacob Markstrom) to make a couple saves.”
They are also getting to the point where they’re going to need a small miracle to stay in the playoff hunt.
Fourth-place Montreal remains four points up on the sixth-place Flames with two games in hand as the Canadiens game against Edmonton was the first North Division contest postponed this season, after two Habs players were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list.
The Senators did well to beat Calgary at Sutter’s game, bottling up the middle of the ice after Ryan Dzingel took advantage of a bad Mark Giordano pinch to open the scoring midway through the first period.
With all that’s at stake with the Flames facing such a short runway, tension heightened for the Flames until Gaudreau took a brilliant Milan Lucic pass to break in alone and snap the shutout with five minutes left. Until that point, the Flames’ best scoring chance came from Zac Rinaldo, playing in just his third game of the year.
However, two-and-a-half minutes later Gaudreau was soft on the wall, allowing Drake Batherson to send the puck to the point where a Mike Reilly blast produced a long rebound Tierney swatted in.
“It hurts,” said Elias Lindholm, whose top line generated little on the night, dropping the Flames to 4-3 under Sutter.
“This was a game we needed to at least grab a point, but we didn’t.”