Considering the quality of opponent, one might have expected this game to turn out far worse than it did. Despite the loss, the Flames had a great showing against the top team in the east. The Penguins, who have scored within the first minute in their last three home games, were held off the board until 10:26 in when Crosby took over. Dupuis and Zolniercyk scored two quick goals to put the Pens up 2-0.
In the second period, a monster shift by Paul Byron cut the Penguins' lead in half, before the Penguins (Crosby) came back with a vengeance, embarrassing TJ Brodie (a good time to remember he's only 23 years old and playing a lot of minutes, so these mistakes are going to happen). A goal credited to Niskanen gave the Penguins a three goal lead, but quick goals by Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler, at the end of the second and start of the third respectively, made it a game again.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The Flames pushed back, but were unable to score the equalizer, going home with another regulation loss. Still, it was a very entertaining game with a good showing from a lot of Flames players. The Flames were never going to win a lot this year, but as long as they're trying, and young players are contributing, it doesn't have to be all bad. That's what we got with this game: some great showings by some younger guys, and a lot of heart that just fell short.
If you're a Flames fan, you have to appreciate that.
- The Flames actually outshot the Penguins 30-23, and had a CF% of 53.3%, which is... pretty unexpected? Mind, this is an opponent missing its top four defencemen, but still, that's quite a showing for the rebuilding club, even if they didn't get the desired result.
- Mikael Backlund is great. So great that apparently Penguins' radio broadcasters Mike Lange and Phil Bourque couldn't stop raving about him. Even though for the first time in 11 games an even strength goal was scored against the Flames with Backlund on the ice, consider who he faced the most: Sidney Crosby. Backlund played 21:16 (second highest for a forward, behind Cammalleri), had six shots (five in the first period!), and only started 18.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. All while being matched up primarily against arguably the best player in the game. That's pretty good.
- Other young guys Paul Byron and Joe Colborne had pretty good games. Byron, playing on a line with Backlund, saw a considerable amount of Crosby as well. And his goal is certainly worth watching:
Colborne had a really good chance to tie the game in the third, using his long reach to nearly wrap it around Fleury, just hitting the post instead. That's where his size comes in handy!
- Sean Monahan played a season low 9:24, with 1:14 of powerplay time. You know, Blair Jones and TJ Galiardi are right there - why play an injured Monahan next to Brian McGrattan (his most common linemate today) on the fourth line? What does he gain from that? What does anybody gain?
- This was bad: 37 seconds into his first shift, Curtis Glencross injured his knee in an awkward fall, and his day was over. He was seen leaving the building in a walking boot and with crutches, so he's probably gone for a while again. Watching him actually trying to stay in the play, then lamely skate back to the bench on his own was devastating. This was only his sixth game back after missing 15 games due to an injury to that same knee. I wouldn't expect anyone to be recalled from Abbotsford, though; as mentioned, B. Jones and Galiardi are both available.
- This was worse: Kris Russell could be gone for a while after hitting his knee on Zach Sill's head after Monahan crosschecked Sill. Russell had trouble getting up, and did not return to the game. With Dennis Wideman still injured, the loss of Russell would be a pretty bad blow to the Flames, and could result in a recall from the Heat. Derek Smith and Chad Billins have already played with the Flames this year
, and Billins is exempt from waivers, so I might expect him, unless the Flames want to try someone younger (for the record, Mark Cundari would require waivers to be sent back to the AHL, as does Chris Breen, the Flames' current extra defenceman). Mind, this is only if Russell is expected to miss significant time, but it certainly did not look good.
Smith cleared waivers on December 9. If he remains on the Flames' roster for fewer than 30 days, or plays fewer than 10 games, then he will not have to clear waivers again to be returned to Abbotsford.
- Karri Ramo's third consecutive start saw him post a .826 SV%, his lowest of the year (excluding his .800 SV% that came in relief of Reto Berra against the Stars on November 14). He's started seven of 10 games in December, and while it's been nice to see Hartley start to turn to him more frequently, it wouldn't be surprising to see the coach go back to Berra for the next game.