The Flames defeated their provincial rivals 4-3 last night, earning their first win of the season and avoiding losses in four consecutive games to start a new campaign.
There was something different about the Flames' game last night that we've only seen in flashes so far this season. They started the game controlling the flow of things and setting a quick pace and it paid off early in the game, as Mikael Backlund scored his second goal just over five minutes in to give Calgary a 1-0 lead.
Later in the frame, Jay Bouwmeester gave the Flames a 2-0 advantage when his shot from the point beat Devan Dubnyk, but the Oilers would get one back near the end of the period with Curtis Glencross off for goalie interference. Justin Schultz put home his second of the season with under a minute left to play in the opening frame to cut the Flames' lead in half.
The first period was probably the most closely-contested of the three as the Flames narrowly edged the Oilers in shots on goal 13-10. However, the Flames pulled away again early in the second period when Curtis Glencross made up for his earlier infraction by restoring the Flames' two-goal lead barely four minutes into the middle frame. Jordan Eberle was able to beat Miikka Kiprusoff with a powerplay goal a few minutes later as the two teams took turns with the man advantage throughout the period, but Lee Stempniak scored a powerplay goal at 14:57 to put some more distance between the home team and their visitors.
The Flames out-shot the Oilers 13-4 in the middle frame and controlled the play in the third period up until the final two minutes when the Oilers pulled Dubnyk for the extra attacker. Edmonton managed one more goal by Sam Gagner with just seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little, too late and the Flames held on for the win.
This was by far the most encouraging full-game performance the Flames have delivered thus far. They outshot the Oilers in all three periods and after the first period, didn't sit back when they had the lead. Jiri Hudler looked good in his Flames debut, scoring an assist, drawing a penalty, and making several nice passes in 17:36 of ice time. Lee Stempniak was dominant again with three points and five shots on goal, and Jay Bouwmeester had what was probably one of his best games in a Flames uniform with a goal and an assist, a +2 rating, and an altogether dominant outing in every zone. He was hitting people, forcing giveaways, and feeding the Matt Stajans of the world (by which I mean the actual Matt Stajan) for partial breakaways. It was great to watch.
Roman Cervenka had a decent first outing but if I wasn't purposefully watching him I probably wouldn't have noticed him that much. That said, he was often in the mix of things in the offensive zone which is likely a good sign.
Sven Baertschi played only five minutes last night on a line with Blake Comeau and Blair Jones and received no powerplay time, which was to be expected but still disappointing. He was involved in a bit of a scrum when Jones was sent flying into the end boards and that was about the only time I noticed him in his brief appearance. He still beat Darcy Hordichuk, who played only 1:11 and was -1 on the Oilers' fourth line, so that's something.
The Flames have a plethora of forwards now as Tim Jackman and Steve Begin also sat out last night's contest, and are going to have to make some decisions soon which will probably involve sending Baertschi down to Abbotsford because there are just too many cooks in the kitchen up front. However, the AHL's All-Star break is about to begin and the Flames don't play again until Thursday so either way it's a bit of a lose-lose situation for Baertschi, unfortunately.