A positive possession team, a lot more was expected of the Minnesota Wild this season. A negative possession team, a lot less was expected of the Calgary Flames. And yet it's the Flames who find themselves in a playoff spot, and the Wild on the outside, trying to look in. But it's tight, and while the Wild have a shot of playing themselves back in it, the Flames really, really need those points, too.
To kick things off, we were treated to some great, fast-paced, no-whistle hockey. Oh, and turnovers. Lots of turnovers. Both the Flames and Wild were cycling in each other's zones a fair amount, although a lot of the Wild's possession time came courtesy of Flames turnovers. Like not even a minute in, when Mark Giordano turned the puck right over to Mikael Granlund, who left it for Zach Parise, who got a pretty good shot that Jonas Hiller had to be sharp on.
Or when Giordano tried to pass to TJ Brodie, only for Thomas Vanek to intercept the puck and connect with Parise right in front of the net. A nifty little move from him to slide it right under Hiller, and it was an early 1-0 lead for the Wild.
The Flames had been controlling the puck and getting chances pretty well up until that point, but were unable to capitalize. And once the Wild got on board, they really took control of the game.
The Flames did have a pretty good chance to tie it up when Matt Stajan found Paul Byron open right in front of the net... but... Paul Byron, so the puck went wide off his stick.
The Wild had another excellent chance of their own, and the Flames were fortunate they didn't fall behind further. Jason Zucker went right in on Hiller, and when he didn't get it past him, Jason Pominville was there to go for it. Giordano came in and both he and Pominville went to the ice right in the blue paint as Zucker recollected the puck and tried to poke it in short side from right beside the net, but Hiller got it.
Thank you, based Hiller, for keeping it just a 1-0 deficit. The first ended with the Flames being outshot 14-8, and out-corised 25-21.
Mikko Koivu committed the gravest of sins: he dared impede Johnny Gaudreau: in this case, via a trip. The Flames had two good scoring chances right at the start of the powerplay: first, a Giordano shot right on Devan Dubnyk, with the rebound hopping right over Sean Monahan's stick; then, Gaudreau did that thing where he has freakish chemistry with Jiri Hudler, but Hudler missed the net.
After that the powerplay was mostly sad and bad. The Wild killed it, and then, at even strength, forced Hiller to make a bunch of high quality, dangerous saves immediately. Hiller did, in fact, make them all, because he is a hero, and we love him. Enjoy him, because these all came over the course of about a minute and a half:
Soon enough, though, the Flames were done relying solely on Hiller to keep them in the game, and once again actively started trying to score. They completely took over the second half of the period. First, there was Gaudreau, with the puck, at the side of the net, with all the time in the world. He was having trouble finding the angle, so he just kept working with it, hoping to find an opening. Eventually he had to shoot, but because Dubnyk's a pretty big guy, he had it. Seriously, though: nobody was even trying to separate him from the puck. And there are people out there worried about him getting hit? He isn't getting hit.
A flurry of Flames chances followed that one. Mikael Backlund came close, but Wild sticks got in the way. Mason Raymond nearly had a breakaway courtesy of Josh Jooris, but was forced wide. Right after, Jooris again fed him the puck, open and in the middle, but he missed on his shot. And Backlund nearly fed Lance Bouma as he drove the net, but Dubnyk sent the puck away, and Bouma sent the net off its moorings instead.
The period ended with Stajan, in particular, gunning for a goal, but it just wasn't to be in the frame. The Flames really played hard in the period's second half, though, ultimately out-shooting the Wild 14-10 in the second, and out-corsiing them 25-15.
So, here are two things: through 48 games this season, the Flames have yet to be shutout. Also, the Flames in the third period in general. So down 1-0, headed into the third, what was gonna happen?
Well, first the Flames decided to shoot themselves in the foot via a too many men penalty. Then they decided to un-shoot themselves in the foot by doing a very nice job of killing the penalty, with some help from the Wild being terrible with the man advantage. That was still two minutes lost, though, so... they still kinda shot themselves in the foot.
And they were still relying on Hiller to give them a chance in the game, because Pominville came right in on him with some absolutely golden chances to put Minnesota up by two, and Hiller just completely stayed with him and kept it out. Monahan picked the puck up and raced down the ice with Gaudreau, but they were unable to do anything with it.
And then, oh, sweet lord. Deryk Engelland chipped the puck up off the boards to Byron. Byron passed it to Gaudreau. In which Gaudreau was Gaudreau, completely dekeing out Jared Spurgeon and getting in on Dubnyk, one-on-one. And... and it would have been so beautiful, but Dubnyk won.
The Flames kept pressing, though. Or at least trying to, although they were often too chaotic or focused on trying to get the perfect shot. Puck bounces over Backlund. Rafa Diaz waits too long. Puck is too much for Joe Colborne on the break. Monahan puts it wide on the empty net. Byron has a clean-cut breakaway, but is Byron. Colborne can't settle it. Non-stop passing at the very end, but no matter how much Brodie is fed, he can't get it in, and nobody can collect the rebounds.
And that was that. The Flames were shutout for the first time all season, downed thanks to an early goal off a Giordano turnover. Shots were eight apiece in the third, and the Wild just had the corsi edge, 17-16. Too little, too late.
Flame of the game
Oh, geez. Yeah, this one has to go to Jonas Hiller. One got past him, but he was on point through the rest of the night, putting up with his team's numerous turnovers in their own end and holding very strong every time a Wild player got in close on him (which happened a lot). He stopped 31 of 32 shots for a pretty frickin' good .969 save percentage. Also, despite a number of chances, nobody even scored... so... yeah, the goalie gets it. What a wasted effort, but it happens to teams all the time, and the Flames are no exception.
- Make no mistake, Giordano is definitely the Flames' MVP. He had a first to forget, though, what with a couple of turnovers - including the one that led directly to the game-winner - and a fair amount of time spent in his own zone. When your best isn't on point, things are going to be difficult. But even the best have bad days. Besides, he did end up playing 27:01, easily the most out of all skaters.
- Are Kris Russell's days on the powerplay officially over? Despite averaging 2:38 with the man advantage over the course of this season, he only has 17 assists, and no goals. This is the second game in a row he hasn't been given substantial powerplay time, what with it now being given to Diaz. Diaz only has two assists himself, but he's played way, way less. He has a pretty nice shot, though, and the powerplay just has not been working. Not sure if that's really on the fourth defenceman, but hey, at least we're trying something. Does this mean Diaz isn't going to be the default healthy scratch on defence, now?
- Okay, look. I like Bouma! A lot! But he's just not a top six forward. He finished with 14:43 in ice time, which ended up being eighth in Flames forward ice time... because he only played 21 seconds in the game's final 10 minutes. Hartley spent most of the game feeding Bouma heavy minutes, playing him as much as guys on the top line, only to make him completely disappear when down a goal and just 10 minutes to go. Way too little, way too late to realize just when, exactly, someone who's best suited for the fourth line should be getting those minutes. He's in over his head against much higher quality of competition, and he was one of the worst Flames of the night.
- I don't know why Parise insists on being called Breezy. It's weird. Pronounce your name properly, weirdo.
... the Flames actually dressed one of their call ups? There are three of them just sitting there. All I'm asking for is one. Or two. Or all three. I'm not picky. Just not none. Seriously: if you're calling someone up to play the role of seventh defenceman, call up Corey Potter. If you want 13th and 14th forwards, keep Brian McGrattan up. Talking about Sven Baertschi's newfound confidence or David Wolf's hot streak is completely inane if you aren't going to do a thing with them. And if you have to wait for a loss to consider changing your personnel, you're really not thinking things through.
... Bob Hartley took the time to properly evaluate his talent, rather than crushing on early favourites and rolling with them until the bitter end? Baertschi is one of this team's top offensive prospects. He's twiddling his thumbs in the pressbox while Bouma is playing alongside Backlund. I'm sorry, and again, I want to stress that I do like Bouma as a player, but that's an obscenely poor evaluation of talent. Do the Flames still get shutout with Bouma on the fourth line and Baertschi in a top six role? Maybe. But are the lines more balanced with a skill player in the top six and a banger and crasher on the bottom? Are they more likely to score that way? Yeah. They are.
It's not that you necessarily expect your team to never get shutout through an entire season, but... it's frustrating. And it's especially frustrating when obvious solutions are staring you right in the face, yet not being utilized. The Flames will have the chance to start collecting points again when they face the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, Jan. 31. Puck drop will be at 8 p.m. MT, and the game's on Hockey Night in Canada.
Maybe a friggin' call up will actually get to play next time.