Last night's relatively easy encounter with Florida might have left people with a surfeit of good feelings towards the Flames, relative to the actual achievement. Tonight's shoot-out loss to the Canucks was a sharp reminder that not everything will come easily, and it should serve as a useful reality check, even if it was just a practice game. Getting your head handed to you for the first 30 minutes and the last 10 will have that effect.
The first half of tonight's proceedings brought back some memories of recent Flames' ineptitude against Vancouver, with the Canucks gaining an early 3-0 lead against token resistance. The opening goal was caused in large part by a poor change and a poor Jay Bouwmeester read, leading to a Kyle Wellwood breakaway. A penalty shot ensued, with Wellwood making short work of it to give the Canucks the lead. Curtis McElhinney struggled early on, allowing a shaky five-hole counter to Daniel Sedin. By the midway mark of the second, it was 3-0 and I mentioned to Kent in the game thread it reminded me of last year's season opening 6-0 game, not only in score but in tone.
Pre-season games are never quite as tight as their regular season counterparts, of course, with every team trying new combinations and looking at different players, some of whom might not play in an actual NHL game any time soon. Possibly because of that inevitable disjointedness, tonight's game took a turn, really out of nowhere. The Flames never seemed to dominate play at any length, and Cory Schneider never gave up a bad goal and yet the Flames ended the second period only down a goal, and took the lead in the third. Curtis Glencross and Brandon Prust were part of the effort to get back even, and Prust acquitted himself well, with two very good passes to set up goals by Lundmark and Bouwmeester.
Unfortunately, as so often happens against the Canucks, the denouement centered around the work of a Sedin. The Canucks overcame a disallowed goal and a neutral zone face-off to score at the death, with Daniel Sedin making Cory Sarich look a bit foolish. Sedin then closed the books with the shoot-out winner.
Result aside, it shouldn't be forgotten that these are still nights largely meant for players to get the attention of the management and coaches. Curtis McElhinney, after a slow opening frame, played better as the game progressed, and he wasn't really at fault for the last two goals against. The 3-0 goal by Raymond had the whiff of goaltender interference about it, and the tying goal by Sedin was a scramble situation and a good bit of business by the Swede, who showed admirable patience with the clock winding down.
There weren't many other Flames of note. Nigel Dawes and Olli Jokinen both struggled early on, with Jokinen being rested, or benched, however you choose to view things, for much of the second frame. The two did combine on the PP goal that gave the Flames a 4-3 lead. Jay Bouwmeester was +2 with a goal, and really only gets partial blame for hauling down Wellwood on the penalty shot play, because of the poor change.
Mikael Backlund had a difficult night. His shoot-out fumbling was unfortunate, but beyond that he only played 8 minutes, and looks like he's ready to head to the Fraser Valley for some remedial work. There's no shame in not being ready at this point, and playing center every night will work in his favour down the line.
The other player of interest in training camp, Theoren Fleury, was not much better, to be frank. He made a good play taking a hit to start the sequence leading to Bouwmeester's goal, but he saw some ice time vs. the Sedins tonight, and he was found as wanting as one might expect. He wasn't alone in being second best when the twins are on the ice, but he can't quite keep up. Tonight was a much more rigorous test than what Fleury had faced in his first two games, so the good times were likely always to be tempered. He got only a few seconds of PP time, which might lead one to believe that the die might be cast at this point, at least. There's no point in giving significant PP time to a guy headed for the AHL, and being realistic, that's the next stop for Theoren Fleury.
The Flames play in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The roster should be down to a manageable size by that point, and it might be time to work on defensive coverage, because the Flames aren't there quite yet in their own zone. The opportunities for the fringe players should end after tonight. Time to cull the herd. If there's more than about 28 guys left by the time they play the Oilers, that will be too many.