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Flames at Sabres recap: Make it three

That is, three games in a row the Flames were the superior team and got majorly stymied by an excellent goalie. Also the first time they've lost three games in a row this season. Oh no.

Not in the face?? (Look, it was a good fight, okay.)
Not in the face?? (Look, it was a good fight, okay.)
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres were riding hot, with a stunning 7-3-0 record prior to tonight's game against our Calgary Flames. A major reason for that? Well, they've gotten some great goaltending as of late, and have a couple of outstanding players. Huh, sounds familiar...

First period

The game took a moment to get going, as both teams presumably had to wake up after braving the snowstorms Buffalo faces. That includes the defence, as the game's first major scoring chance was for the Sabres, when Latvian all-star Zemgus Girgensons had a wide open net to wrap the puck around into. Karri Ramo and Mark Giordano just barely managed to save the day by lying across the crease and getting that puck away, but it wasn't the best way to start a game.

Thankfully, the Flames woke up. Paul Byron, who was drafted by the Sabres, received an excellent stretch pass to go in on a breakaway. Anyway, it was Paul Byron on a breakaway, so I'm sure you can guess how it turned out. (If you're new, Jhonas Enroth stopped him.)

Johnny Gaudreau and friends followed that up by generating a scoring chance with some nice passing that resulted in Josh Gorges hooking fellow Josh, Josh Jooris, to give the Flames the game's first powerplay. On which the Sabres nearly got a chance thanks to a Dennis Wideman blueline turnover, but fortunately, the Flames were able to rectify their mistakes and not allow a shot against.

But yeah, the penalty got killed. And then Brandon Bollig nearly got a goal (or at least a point off the following Mason Raymond chance) when he won a faceoff in the Sabres' end.

Was that a sign of the apocalypse? APPARENTLY, because after that chance the Flames didn't generate a single shot attempt - not just shot, shot attempt - for almost nine minutes. Think about it. This is the Buffalo Sabres, a team that hasn't exactly made their desire for Connor McDavid a secret, and the Flames went nearly half a period without directing the puck anywhere remotely towards their net.

Thanks Brandon. (It's not actually Bollig's fault. That's everybody's fault. Hoo boy.)

The first ended with the Flames still managing to outshoot Buffalo 11-6, and out-corsi them 17-13, but that certainly could have gone better.

Second period

The Sabres kept up their play from the end of the first. Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford nearly combined for the game's first goal, but instead drew Buffalo's first powerplay as TJ Brodie was forced to take a hooking call and Stafford went crashing into Ramo.

The powerplay didn't last long. Thirty seconds in Tyler Ennis made a nice move to get a good chance, but that nice move also included slashing Wideman, so the man advantage was nullified pretty quick as we went to four on four. The Flames largely controlled the play, but the game remained scoreless. In fact, once the Flames' brief powerplay expired, Ennis and Nicolas Deslauriers went on a two on one, but Deslauriers missed the net.

Not that it mattered too much. Ennis chased Brodie behind the net, knocked him down, stole the puck, and dished it to a streaking Matt Moulson in the slot. Brodie could only watch helplessly from the ice as nobody even touched Moulson and he roofed the puck over Ramo, making it a 1-0 game for Buffalo.

And then Bollig fought Chris Stewart for some reason. In all fairness, it was an excellent, long-lasting, even-handed tilt and both players got a well-deserved five minutes rest in their respective boxes.

Fighting doesn't give you a man advantage, but the Flames were about to get a huge one. Jooris had an excellent move to get the puck to Jiri Hudler right in front of the net, but Foligno slashed him in the process. And then, just 11 seconds into the powerplay, Deslauriers chucked the puck over the glass for a delay of game.

That's right: 1:48 of five on three time for the Flames. If they can't score on this, just give u--

Not even half a minute later Giordano and Wideman were exchanging the puck until Gio got it one last time and shot an absolute bullet off the crossbar and in to tie the game. Nice.

Hudler, Gaudreau, and Markus Granlund pressed to extend the lead on their remaining powerplay time, but it just wasn't to be as Enroth continued a herculean display to keep it a tie game.

Great moment as the powerplay ended: the puck bounced around in front of the Sabres' net, and Buffalo got control of it. Deslauriers stepped out of the box and Ennis sprung him. Wideman chased him down but probably wasn't going to catch up, so out came Ramo, charging to poke check Deslauriers. In the process he flipped the Sabre and sent Wideman careening into the net, knocking it way off its moorings.

It was great, especially the part where the net went off its moorings because one of Deslauriers' incoming teammates had a wide open net to shoot at. Close call averted thanks to a crazy Finnish goalie who will take out everybody and anybody, apparently.

The Sabres would soon take the lead regardless. Stafford sent the puck cross-crease, right to Foligno, who everybody was ignoring. Ramo was focused on Stafford, as was Deryk Engelland. Who was standing right next to Foligno. With his back turned to him. And unable to intercept the pass or actually try covering his man. It was, uh, not a good look as the Sabres went up 2-1.

And then they were nearly up 3-1 as Nikita Zadorov's point shot was tipped down and in by Foligno again. It was immediately ruled no goal, though, and a quick video review confirmed Foligno's stick was high.

Lucky for the Flames it stayed a one-goal game, as immediately after, Jooris directed the puck towards the front of the net. David Jones was there to collect it and horribly victimize Josh Gorges, catching the Sabres defenceman completely unaware as he tied the game at two.

The Flames left the second frame outshooting the Sabres 27-12, and out-corsiing them 44-29.

Third period

The Flames opened the third determined to take the lead. First Sean Monahan made a deft little pass to Brodie in the slot, but Brodie was unable to pull the trigger. Pretty much the same thing happened with Hudler. Twice.

It had to work eventually, though, right? Returnee Joe Colborne picked up the puck and skated it into the offensive zone. He kept skating with it, clearing Sabres from his path as he went behind Enroth's net. That's when he finally relinquished the puck, dishing it to a streaking Monahan who immediately potted it to give the Flames their first lead of the game, 3-2.

The Sabres didn't exactly have anything going for them in the third, but they made their few chances count thanks to high-skill plays from their first line. Girgensons passed the puck to Ennis behind the net, and Ennis immediately threw it out in front. Moulson was right there but missed, so the puck slid right out to Girgensons, who had a wide open net to shoot at to tie the game at three.

Granlund nearly got the lead back as Hudler got the puck to him right in front of the net, but Enroth stymied him. He then held off Gaudreau and Jooris' immediate followup attempts, but the Sabres were forced to ice it due to the Flames' pressure.

For all Calgary's chances, though, Enroth wasn't having any of it. Ramo couldn't compete with his European counterpart, as after a failed Ennis to Girgensons attempt, Ennis went to Moulson, just behind Ramo, and the puck went in. It was reviewed for a possible kick, but the puck ultimately went off Moulson's stick, and thus, Buffalo retook the lead, this time 4-3.

The Flames pressed and pressed to tie the game back up, but Enroth was having absolutely none of it. They finally pulled Ramo and, with just 15 seconds to go after yet another Enroth save, Hartley called his timeout. On the ensuing final faceoff, the Flames lost it, but Giordano just managed to keep the puck in the zone. A flurry of desperate activity culminated in a Curtis Glencross shot, but Enroth wasn't about to let anyone score on him again.

Despite outshooting the Sabres 45-19 and out-corsiing them 76-36, the Flames fell 4-3 in Buffalo.

Flame of the game

The pickings aren't great for this particular outing. Still, this one goes to Mark Giordano. He led the team in ice time, had six shots on net, and scored a beautiful goal as the Flames' captain continues to lead all defencemen in scoring: 30 points in 30 games. (Brent Burns is second with 23 points in 30 games. Brodie third with 22.) He managed all that while primarily facing off against what's a pretty decent Moulson - Girgensons - Ennis top line. He's amazing and while this game didn't have the optimal outcome, he was still pretty good, as is the new norm.

Stray observations

  • Deryk Engelland is not particularly good at hockey.
  • The Flames' top four had ice times ranging from 24:11 (Brodie) to 26:18 (Giordano). Engelland played 9:24. Only Bollig played less than him at 7:31. Seriously, coach, if you don't trust these players in the slightest, why do you keep dressing them? Stop that.
  • Rafa Diaz only played 9:50 himself. I am not railing on him for a number of reasons, including him being better than Engelland and the fact that he doesn't have an absurd price tag pathetically defended by a general manager scrambling to reason why the heck that contract came into existence.
  • Seriously we're 30 games in now, how much longer is it going to take this team to fully learn they messed up and commit to it?
  • Lacklustre game overall, but I really liked Byron's jump to kick things off. A Shame he couldn't capitalize on any of his chances. He came to us from Buffalo as part of the package for Robyn Regehr, and while it doesn't always show, he's been genuinely great.
  • Don't think Jones is joining the first line again any time soon. For the second game in a row he played just over 10 minutes, even though he scored.
  • This isn't a bad stat at all: Monahan is now tied with Hudler for the team's goal scoring lead with 11 goals each. His shooting percentage is a much more realistic 14.10% (he was at 15.70% last season) as opposed to Hudler's 20.80%. That may or may not keep up, but after a slow, flu-ridden start, Monahan continues to look like a force to reckon with.
  • Colborne's return saw him receive way more trust than Raymond was afforded in the previous game. He was one of just six Flames to play over 20 minutes (the others being the top four defencemen and, of course, Monahan), and had an assist in his return. That's nine assists for Colborne on the year without a single goal. Not bad, and not a bad return for him, especially considering how he started the strong majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
  • The easiest way to put it: Ramo overplayed the Sabres all night, frequently leaving his net wide open for a waiting man on the opposite side. Enroth, meanwhile, was incredible and easily the better goalie of the night. With it being a back to back game, we were probably going to see Jonas Hiller next anyway, but man, four goals on 19 shots is not a great performance.

What if...

... the Flames realized that outside of Giordano and Brodie, they don't have that great a defence? While they're arguably the best pairing in the league, there isn't much to write home about after. Neither Engelland nor the scratched Ladislav Smid have been able to do much, and the occasional time Diaz is permitted to play, he hasn't been able to make an impact. You know who looked good at the end of last season and could have conceivably made the team out of the gate this year? Tyler Wotherspoon. They would need to actually play him, and play him regularly, but Wotherspoon would immediately improve a very shallow defence group.

... the Flames admitted they made a huge mistake with Engelland? They made a mistake with Bollig as well, but Engelland's faults really shone tonight.

It's a quick turnaround as the Flames will be jetting off to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins tomorrow night, once again at the early, early start time of 5 p.m. Frickin' east, man.