The Flames proved they could stay with the East's best team yesterday in Philadelphia, but failed to do so twice in a row when they faced the Penguins this afternoon, falling 4-1 to Sidney Crosby's crew in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins wasted no time in taking advantage of the tired Flames today, completely dominating the first period. Kiprusoff made a spectacular save on Crosby's penalty shot attempt just over four minutes in after he was hooked by Brendan Morrison on a breakaway, and remained busy throughout the period, keeping his team in the game by making 24 (!) stops through the first twenty minutes of play. The visitors registered only six shots on net, but managed to escape the opening frame locked in a scoreless tie.
Despite a good start to the second where the Flames had several quality scoring chances, the Penguins finally broke through six and a half minutes into the middle frame thanks to some sloppy play by the Flames in their own zone and an unrelenting effort by Penguins forward Arron Asham. Pittsburgh continued to dominate territorially throughout much of the second, and would add to their advantage shortly after when Crosby got in behind the Flames defence to put home his 16th of the season. Shots were closer in the middle frame, ending 12-11 in favour of the Pens.
The third period would start off much the same, and Crosby's second of the game on a powerplay would give the home side a 3-0 edge midway through the final frame. The Flames would wake up somewhat after that, as a late push would result in a Rene Bourque goal and a decent amount of quality chances to bring the visitors within one, but to no avail. Crosby would seal the Penguins' sixth consecutive win with a hat-trick goal into an empty Calgary net. The Flames' 14-7 advantage on the shot clock made the damage look a little better than it really was, but the Penguins were the better team from start to finish in this game, despite some interspersed sequences of sustained pressure by the Flames. The visitors did a good job of limiting their hosts' shots after the first period, but it wasn't enough. The Penguins made good on the chances they got, and the Flames didn't. Same old story.
The Flames' inability to clear the zone and often indifferent and cautious play in their own end gave off the appearance of a constant man-advantage for Pittsburgh throughout most of the game, and it hurt them, as half of the Penguins' goals were scored as result of sustained pressure in their visitor's zone.
Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr both had good afternoons facing off against the Crosby line, with Bouw finishing +4 in scoring chance differential and a team-best +10 in Corsi, while Regehr was even and +8, respectively. Bouwmeester registered an assist on Bourque's third period goal, and was active in the offensive zone all afternoon. Up front, Jarome Iginla had another good game despite his point streak coming to an end, and Matt Stajan wasn't bad either in his return after missing the past two games. Both were in the black in scoring chances and Corsi, and Iginla saw a significant amount of Crosby, Kunitz, and Dupuis--more than any other Calgary forward. The best Flames forwards in terms of creating offence this afternoon were probably Alex Tanguay and Niklas Hagman; Hagman tied Bouwmeester for the team lead in shots with four. Glencross wasn't bad either, but finished underwater in both categories, as did his linemates David Moss and Rene Bourque.
This loss was not an unexpected result by any means, especially in the second half of a back-to-back scenario when they team was playing their fifth game in seven days, but part of me hoped they would be able to hold off the Penguins just as they had done to the Flyers yesterday. Alas, Kiprusoff can only do so much, and he was the sole reason this game was even close through the first thirty minutes of play.
The Flames don't have much time to rest, as they return home to take on take on the Minnesota Wild on Monday in the second meeting between the Northwest division rivals this season, and the first on Saddledome ice.