(Apologies for the delay on this one, I've been experiencing some troubles with the internet connection since I've been home)
The Flames saw their mini two-game winning streak come to a very anticlimactic end last night in a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, a game in which they weren't able to sustain a consistent level of engagement throughout. When Cory Sarich is tied for the team lead in shots on goal, you know your big guns didn't show up. Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen both saw their point streaks come to an end with Matt Stajan providing the only offence for the home side late in the third period.
The first period was slow and fairly evenly matched with the Wild edging the Flames in shots by a count of 8-7, and would end in a scoreless tie, as often happens when these teams play each other. The home team would enjoy their only powerplay of the game when Kyle Brodziak got the gate for delay of game, but to no avail. The Flames' failure to generate much in the offensive zone led to some quality chances coming back the other way, but Kiprusoff was up to the task.
The Flames would come on strong to start the second, but only managed seven shots on Niklas Backstrom in the middle frame. Despite holding the Wild to just four shots on goal, they would find themselves down 2-0 heading into the third after a powerplay goal by Antti Mietinen and an even strength tally by Mikko Koivu with under a minute remaining in the period .
With the Flames pushing to get back into the game in the third, former Flame Chuck Kobasew put the nail in the coffin for Calgary with his third goal of the season with 7:41 remaining in the final frame. Backstrom made 14 saves in the final twenty minutes and twenty-eight altogether to preserve the victory for his club, which leapfrogs the Flames for third in the Northwest and 13th place in the conference with 32 points on the season.
Despite limiting the Wild to just 16 shots in this game, the chances the Flames gave up were quality ones, and Minnesota capitalized on them. After such a low-shooting game Thursday against Toronto, it was nice to see the Flames generate a greater volume of shots, and although there's no doubt Backstrom was on his game, too many of them were of the unthreatening variety.
The line of Tom Kostopoulos, Tim Jackman, and David Moss were a combined +37 in Corsi in this game, taking advantage of an increase in ice time and some favourable circumstances provided them by their coach. The opposite was true of Brendan Morrison, Mikael Backlund, and Ales Kotalik, who finished a combined -27. The latter two were practically stapled to the bench in the third period after having the misfortune of being matched up against Mikko Koivu and Co. on several occasions and coming out on the wrong end of things. The pairing of Adam Pardy and Anton Babchuk also had a rough go of things in similar circumstances, although they spent most of their time out against Eric Nystrom's line.
Last night's effort was just flat out not good enough, and against a team that the Flames are directly competing with in the standings. Thoroughly mediocre. They played to Minnesota's strengths and according to their game plan, and the Wild executed fairly well despite their low shot volume, jumping on their host's mistakes and making them pay on the scoresheet.
This is probably one of the easier stretches of hockey the Flames will play this season, and they have to come to play against teams of equal or lesser standing since coming away with two points against the likes of the Red Wings and other upper-echelon teams has proven rare two months into the season.
The Flames hit the road tomorrow for games in St. Paul, Columbus, and Dallas before the holiday break.