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Flames vs. Canucks recap: Get ready for a long year

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Hockey is officially back! Remember how the Flames are rebuilding? Yeah, about that.

Little guys do a better job of getting things done than big guys, apparently.
Little guys do a better job of getting things done than big guys, apparently.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are! With Heather Liscano's final anthem performance, we welcome the Flames with the season opener in Calgary. Tonight they hosted the stupid jerkface Vancouver Canucks, who nobody likes, and got mostly outplayed and also lost, because they're rebuilding. But hey, a couple of the young guys looked great, and that's what we're here for.

First period

The Flames kicked off their season by outshooting the Canucks. This especially escalated when Kevin Bieksa was called for interference, and after a bit of fun of watching Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan work together, Chris Higgins was called for delay of game. However, even with 63 seconds of 5 on 3 time (which Monahan - even though he was a game-time decision with the flu - stayed out for), plus the rest of Higgins' penalty time, the Flames were unable to open the scoring.

No, that would go to the Canucks. Paul Byron tried to separate Luca Sbisa from the puck, but he required hooking to do it, and so he went to sit... for just eight seconds, as the Canucks scored immediately. On one of their few faceoff wins of the first (the Flames really dominated in that category. That was the only category, really), Vancouver drew it back to Dan Hamhuis, who shot it from the point. Alex Burrows was hanging out in front of the net and tipped it home to put his team up 1-0.

The Flames were kind of garbage since their powerplay time, and it was starting to show. They flatlined on shot attempts as Vancouver got their legs under them and began controlling the play. Something else the Canucks were able to do was take advantage of poor Flames personnel. With all of Brian McGrattan, Brandon Bollig, and Deryk Engelland out on the ice, sure, nobody was taking any liberties, but the Canucks were close to scoring again. The goony trio sure were good at scrumming once it was safe, though.

(Seriously, what's better - beating your opponent's face in, or just not letting them get chances to score to begin with? Sigh.)

With disaster averted, though, the Flames nearly got the chance to let it play out again, when Mason Raymond, in his Flames debut, was called for tripping on Jannik Hansen. (Hansen just fell, though.) FORTUNATELY! The Canucks didn't score. Rather, the Flames did a good job of being aggressive on the penalty kill, getting it down the ice a couple of times: notably a near 2 on 1 for Lance Bouma and Bollig, and Curtis Glencross almost getting a break (before easily being caught and neutralized).

The period ended with TJ Brodie being, well, great. Skating up the wing, he worked to fight his way through both Alex Edler and Zack Kassian. He couldn't, though, because both Canucks were  basically trying to hug him, hauling him down and putting the Flames back on the powerplay.

The period ended with a great shorthanded attempt by Chris Tanev, and an even greater save by Jonas Hiller, flashing the glove as the clock ran out.

Second period

The Flames started the second on the powerplay, and aside from a quick chance by Monahan, failed to really do anything with it.

That was okay, though, because not long after, the, uh, "Timbit" line went to work. Joe Colborne skated his way through a Canuck, chipping it up to Byron, who found himself on a 2 on 1 with Gaudreau. The little guys balled it out as Byron kept the puck, snapping it past Ryan Miller for the Flames' first of the season, and tying the game at 1.

The happiness was short-lived because just over a minute later, the Canucks, deep in the Flames' zone, put themselves back on top. Brad Richardson passed it to Linden Vey from the corner, who then quickly chipped it to Kassian, who was standing wide and clear (as Dennis Wideman took a nap or something in front of the net, I dunno why, but that's why he's the Flames' highest paid player). Kassian had no problem snapping it right past Hiller, who couldn't get himself over in time, making it 2-1 Vancouver.

Some four on four action, courtesy of high sticks dealt by Richardson and Glencross, showcased some great Brodie and Backlund action. Mikael Backlund went in with an excellent scoring chance, but shot it wide. The puck went right back down the end, but Mark Giordano dove out to prevent the Canucks from getting another scoring chance.

The Canucks, sadly, would not be stopped. Henrik Sedin, from around the net, directed it up high, and Radim Vrbata knocked it down and in. There was a lengthy debate as to whether it was a good goal, but as Sportsnet will tell you they have the greatest cameras ever now and are also the greatest hey guys you have the monopoly on hockey broadcasting now we have no choice but to watch you calm down ... and because of those great cameras, the league was able to determine it was a good goal.

Despite being mostly outplayed, though, the Flames weren't going to stay down by more than one forever. With a nice little tap assist from Monahan, Jiri Hudler got his first of the year when he sniped it, while Edler did his best Wideman impression.

Speaking of Wideman, Burrows upended him in the corner, and he was a bit shaken up, but was able to stay in the game.

Hiller, meanwhile, was busy showing off his great glove. With a sneaky save on a Sedin in the corner out of the way, he then denied Tanev for the second time with an outstanding stretch out to snag the puck. The Flames' goaltending has definitely improved.

The period ended on a scrum. Ryan Stanton ran Bouma, and then chaos broke out: Engelland and Daniel Sedin got into it, Kris Russell came in to help out, Backlund and Burrows started grabbing each other from behind, Engelland got in Burrows' face, Russell and Sedin still had each other, and somehow everyone got out of that mess without any penalties.

Third period

Down by one, the Flames continued to be mostly outplayed. Completely stuck in their own end, there seemed to be no help until... oh, wait... who's that? Why, it's Johnny Hockey! Here to retrieve the puck, skate it out of the Flames' zone, carry it all the way into the Canucks', and kick off a flurry of chances with help from his linemates!

This was followed up by Matt Stajan singlehandedly trying to keep it going while getting no support whatsoever because his linemates are Bollig and McGrattan.

In fact, the Flames seemed to have a difficult time getting anything going. The Canucks seemed to be comfortably in control; that is, other than when guys like Backlund got significant ice time. Or... Gaudreau. Just as the Canucks were beginning to advance the puck yet again, Gaudreau was able to keep it in their zone, and formed a 2 on 1 with Raymond. He took the shot, but it was blocked.

It was with their skilled players out there that the Flames started faring much, much better. Gaudreau. Backlund. Giordano. Brodie. Take your pick, as all generated excellent chances to tie up the game, but it wasn't meant to be. With Hiller pulled, the Flames made the Canucks work really, really, really hard (no seriously they were on them and bringing them down and everything), but Henrik Sedin was eventually able to ice it. The Flames' comeback fell short as they were defeated, 4-2.

Flame of the game

Some people would say Johnny Gaudreau. Those people would be right to. I'm gonna go with someone a little less heralded, though: Paul Byron, the unqualified RFA, who opened the Flames' scoring for the year. He was involved in several plays, creating offence, using his speed, and overall just looking rather good out there. Not bad for a short sixth rounder, now the lone remnant of the Robyn Regehr trade. Plus that was a nice goal. Byron's good, and he had a great debut for the 2014-15 season.

Stray observations

  • Gaudreau got more ice time as the game went on. And more. And more, as the Flames found themselves down by a goal with the clock ticking down. He finished with 16:04 on the night, including 2:42 on the powerplay, and was at 48% on CF. And he just singlehandedly makes things happen, doesn't he? Completely bailed the Flames out more than once, and he's a rookie. Here's to a great season!
  • Let it be known: Brodie and Giordano are easily our top defence pairing. They played 24:48 and 25:39 respectively, and crushed it possession-wise, with CFs above 60% each. Russell had a pretty good night for himself as well, with 20:49 in ice time, and while he didn't perform as high possession-wise, he was in on a lot of chances - some with Gaudreau and Byron.
  • Brodie had to keep fighting his way through numerous Canucks tonight. He either drew a penalty or succeeded. He is very good please re-sign him forever.
  • Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Engelland all played around 16 minutes. They were the three worst Flames when it came to CF, too, all hovering around 30%. One of them needs to be replaced with Rafa Diaz. Immediately. He shouldn't have even been sitting tonight. Somebody get Diaz in there and lighten the load for the other three, because he's much better.
  • Monahan had himself quite a night - fourth on the Flames in CF. He had 17:43 in ice time, just three seconds fewer than Backlund. Those two are likely going to be our top two centres for the year, and should be great to watch. Gaudreau should be on one of their lines.
  • McGrattan, your ice time loser tonight at 7:14. Even Bollig got some looks late in the game (including actually getting a shot on net during Stajan's near-solo drive). With McGrattan *and* Bollig *and *Engelland*, at least one definitely needs to go, and he's the obvious choice.
  • Hiller seemed to be caught sleeping a few times tonight, but at other times, was lethal with the glove. Karri Ramo should be up tomorrow, and the battle for #1 shouldn't be over just yet, so it'll be interesting to see how Ramo's debut compares.
  • Hey, our old friend joined us again!
    Mr. Feaster is aware he was the GM at this time last year and the roster still has his fingerprints all over it, right? Maybe it's not the smartest thing to get chirpy just yet.

Next game wishes

Unrealistic: Ditch Glencross. Call up Sven Baertschi. Resume play. Glencross did not have a good night, and with him on the final year of his contract, the only way he's going to help out is by giving the Flames a decent trade return.

Realistic: Put Colborne back on the wing, shift Bouma back down to the fourth line, and give Stajan real wingers to help him out. As fun as it is that Hartley basically called him a penis, that dude didn't perform well enough to be the shaft of a line, and he looked better on the wing last year, anyway. Meanwhile, seriously, Stajan doesn't deserve to be anchoring goons. He's not bad at hockey, give him some linemates who can actually help him out.

Will these things happen in time for tomorrow's game against the Edmonton Oilers, puck drop 7:30 p.m., in Edmonton or on SN360? Maybe? I don't know. See you for the first Battle of Alberta!