Having had the previous four days off, it was suddenly an eventful pre-game for the Calgary Flames. Not only was Mikael Backlund making his long awaited and all-too necessary return to the lineup, but the Flames' top scorer, Jiri Hudler, suddenly ditched the Saddledome during warm ups because his wife went into labour.
That's great for the Hudlers, and great his former team, the Detroit Red Wings, whom the Flames were facing! But... less great for the actual Flames. Still, after Ladislav Smid's twins, this is the third Czech Flame baby to come into the world in such a short period of time - yay!!
Also, there was a game. In which Mikael Backlund played.
And when Mikael Backlund plays, good things happen. Good things such as Backlund chipping the puck up to Mason Raymond coming through the neutral zone, and Raymond using his speed for a smooth carry-in and hard shot on Petr Mrazek. Mrazek never got back in position, and with David Jones and Backlund at the Wings' net, either tying up opposing players or ready for the puck or both, Raymond collected his rebound, arced behind the net, and wrapped it around and right in to give the Flames a fast 1-0 lead.
Mikael Backlund is great and makes things happen and is also the best and we missed him so, so much. Oh, and pretty nice response from Raymond after being scratched for a couple of games, too.
That great start continued when TJ Brodie carried the puck up, and threw it on Mrazek. The Wings goalie, possibly enamoured by Mikael Backlund - as we all are - bobbled the puck, and was susceptible to Curtis Glencross crashing the net. Amidst the chaos and bodies, Mrazek eventually froze it, but not before Justin Abdelkader hooked Glencross, sending the Flames to the powerplay.
It was not a great powerplay. That is, it wasn't great - until Mikael Backlund came on.
(Are you noticing a theme here?)
As the powerplay was nearing its end, Mikael Backlund stepped on the ice. In the dying seconds, he ended up in front of the net, whacking away at the puck so many times it was a miracle the shaky Mrazek managed to stop him multiple times in a row. Seriously, the Flames were this close to a 2-0 lead largely in part due to Mikael Backlund.
(The theme here is that he rules.)
Sadly, no matter how great he is, Mikael Backlund cannot play an entire 60 minutes - especially not with him just coming back from injury. With him on the bench, Darren Helm forced Raymond into turning over the puck in the neutral zone, and Riley Sheahan picked it up. Sheahan deked around Deryk Engelland in his drive to the net, and threw the puck in over Karri Ramo, tying the game.
The Flames had the chance to retake the lead as the period ended with a second powerplay - this time, Stephen Weiss hooking Johnny Gaudreau - but the powerplay was super bad and both teams went to their respective dressing rooms with the game tied.
In part thanks to the powerplay - one good, one bad - the Flames outshot the Wings 11-7 over the first, but were out-corsied 18-15.
A rather eventful first period gave us a rather uneventful second, although it's safe to say the Red Wings had the better start to the period. Although there was a neat moment where Xavier Ouellet kept the puck in the Flames' zone, only to immediately give it away to Sean Monahan. Monahan, whose defensive play has improved leaps and bounds from his rookie season, skated right on down for a breakaway; however, Ouellet was with him enough to prevent him from making any fancy moves, and Mrazek had the stop.
That was pretty much the most exciting thing to happen until carnage.
Drew Miller was skating down the ice with a break, Rafa Diaz just behind him. Ramo assessed the situation and quickly made his choice: he was going to skate out and poke the puck away from Miller, preventing him from getting a scoring chance.
That kind of happened. What also happened was he took out Diaz, whose knee collided with his mask. Diaz went flying as Ramo laid down on the ice, the play called dead with Ramo on top of the puck. He was assessed and had to leave just after the halfway mark, and Jonas Hiller came in. Ramo did not return.
The Flames got their third powerplay of the game when Abdelkader held Brodie 200 feet away from his own net for some reason. It wasn't as terrible a powerplay as the second one, but other than some great Gaudreau chances, we weren't subjected to the majesty we saw with Backlund on the first.
And with the penalty effectively killed and following faceoff in the Flames' end, a bouncing puck made it to a wide open Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg, wide open in the slot? Yeah, we could all see that one coming, especially with a cold goalie in net. He made it 2-1 for the Wings, and that's the score the period ended on.
Shots were even at eight apiece for both teams in the second, and the Flames had the corsi edge at 17-16.
Third, same as the second: the Wings were the better team at the period's start, and it finally granted them their first powerplays of the game. The two Flames penalty kills were complete opposites: one went super badly and one went super awesome.
First, it was Josh Jooris off for hooking Gustav Nyquist. This was the penalty kill that went super badly, as the Wings had absolutely no problems picking up the puck, executing pretty passing plays to easily enter the Flames' zone, and then even more pretty passing as Nyquist hit Abdelkader, Abdelkader hit the post, the puck went back to Abdelkader, and Abdelkader tapped it into a wide open net, giving the Red Wings a 3-1 lead.
Second, it was Joe Colborne hooking Nyquist. (Guys Nyquist just got fined $2,000 for embellishment, come onnnn here!) This was the penalty kill that went super awesome, first beginning with a Matt Stajan shorthanded chance. Mrazek had no issues with that, and the Wings skated back into the offensive zone.
Or they tried to. Because then Paul Byron got the puck, and he was taking off down the wing. Down the middle was Backlund keeping pace. Byron had a fantastic little chip up to Backlund, and this time, Backlund had no problems driving it home, scoring the Flames' second shorthanded goal of the year to bring them back within one, 3-2.
(Remember the theme of the game?)
(Look at his face after scoring I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.)
The Flames' kill ended with a frantic and invigorated scramble around the Wings' net, that resulted in a great, but unsuccessful chance from Jooris, and a Kyle Quincey interference penalty on Colborne. Gifted with their fourth powerplay of the game, the Flames decided to stay consistent, and do nothing with it.
Of course, once it ended, they nearly scored when Stajan deflected Brodie's shot and it went off the post and chilled in the blue paint for a bit, but nobody was fast enough to tap it in and tie the game. This was followed up by a big Lance Bouma hit that created enough space for a good Mark Giordano chance, but again, nothing came of it.
And then Nyquist got a break and nearly went fivehole on Hiller, but Hiller stayed with him and managed to not let the puck trickle through, to the relief of everyone.
Just under two mintues to go, and despite all of Mikael Backlund's attempts to tie up the game (guys he's so good), the Flames were still down by one. So they pulled Hiller, and scored! Except the goal was immediately waved off because Glencross knocked Mrazek's mask off prior to the puck going in the net. That was extremely unhelpful, and the Flames were still down a goal with 38 seconds to go.
And then the Flames scored! Except this one was waved off because it was ruled Giordano failed to keep the puck onside (even though it really looked like it was, not that you can trust Sportsnet to give you a decent review of a controversial call or anything, apparently). He passed the puck to Wideman regardless and Wideman blasted it in, but yeah, it was called offside and didn't count.
So even with Mikael Backlund, he who is the absolute best, out there for the game's final minutes, the Flames were close! - but unsuccessful! - in tying the game and ended up falling to the Red Wings, 3-2. They outshot the Wings 11-7 in the third, and out-corsied them 20-15, and Mikael Backlund is great.
Flame of the game
This one was pretty much decided right from the start of the game, and his performance did everything to cement it. You remember the theme of the game, right? Mikael Backlund. In his return after only playing 11 games this season, and clearly not being totally healthy while doing so, he played 17:54, fourth out of all Flames forwards. That included 3:32 on the powerplay, and 1:03 on the penalty kill. Speaking of the penalty kill, THAT SHORTHANDED GOAL. Speaking of goals, he was in on both of the Flames'. Speaking of generating goals, he had several other opportunities where thanks to him, the Flames nearly scored, mostly due to his set up abilities. Speaking of him setting teammates up, he was also tied for the team lead with four actual shots on net. Speaking of shots on net, he was third on the Flames with a CF of 56.52%. Speaking of him being the best, well, yeah, he is.
- I don't think it's a stretch to speculate that had Hudler been in the lineup and not off witnessing the miracle of life, the Flames could have won this. He's the team's top scorer. His presence, combined with his chemistry with Gaudreau, combined with Backlund also being there (no offence to Jooris but if we're takling top six centres, Backlund is better than him) could have worked out very nicely. Oh well. May the Hudlers enjoy their child!
- Raymond is a pretty speedy skater who probably shouldn't have been scratched. He was obviously crucial on the first goal, what with scoring it and all, but that opportunity only existed because of his speed. Raymond had a pretty good night.
- A couple of fun takeaways: Gaudreau chasing Danny DeKeyser around, only to strip Luke Glendening of the puck moments later and nearly score; and that time we can all say we definitely saw Colborne take the puck away from Pavel Datsyuk. Yes, that Joe Colborne, and yes, that Pavel Datsyuk.
- Speaking of Datsyuk, he had a huge hit on Gaudreau in the first. Being a professional hockey player, Datsyuk will sometimes throw hits. Being a professional hockey player, Gaudreau is capable of taking hits. It's almost as if players known for their skill in a physical sport are capable of being physical, too!
- Giordano and Brodie played over 27 minutes each. Kris Russell and Wideman played nearly 26 and just over 24, respectively. Engelland and Diaz played eight and six minutes. Somebody get that backend some help (no, Smid does not count as help, sorry).
- The only forwards to play more than Backlund? Glencross, Monahan, and Colborne. Thoughts on each of those: I want Glencross' "A" to go to Backlund; Monahan is seriously awesome and has come so far in his development and having a one-two punch with him and Backlund is great, but just wait until Sam Bennett gets added in the mix oh man oh man; and I'm not entirely sure why Colborne is getting so much ice time, but he's been pretty okay lately. I just don't expect it to last, is all.
- The last time Ramo played a full game was Dec. 11, a 4-3 loss to Buffalo. It sounds like he's okay, so with a back to back coming up, maybe he can play a full 60 again soon! Just a month later!!
- Mrazek was pretty shaky for most of the game, actually, and that, combined with the sheer number of powerplays the Flames had, makes the loss all the more disappointing. This is one they really should have had.
... Hudler had played? I don't think Jooris would have finished the night centring him and Gaudreau. Backlund is clearly, well, back, and he's awesome, and him and Monahan are this team's top two centres without a doubt.
... Backlund hadn't started the season hurt? The Flames have had a pretty respectable first half of the season, but they're also one of the absolute worst possession teams in the NHL, with a 44.1% CF, good for 29th in the league, prior to this game. Backlund is a super good player. More of him, and the Flames' possession stats are almost definitely gonna go up.
... Glencross got traded? He's probably the Flames' most tradeable asset this season, and with this being the last year of his contract and it not making a lick of sense for the Flames to re-sign him (how many dang-near NHL-ready left wing prospects do they have?), he simply has to go somewhere. And when he does, I want that "A" going to Backlund. Because Backlund has been with the Flames his whole career, been through the desperate #goingforits, been through unfair fourth line benchings to the top line, been through the collapse and the franchise player trade and the start of a rebuild, been through all this over six seasons, and he's one of the Flames' best players. He looked great with the "A" last year, it's time he gets one full time.
Tough, close loss. The Flames will have the chance to quickly redeem themselves on Friday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. MT when the Florida Panthers stop by. Hudler should be back by then, and Backlund, having proven himself clearly the best, will probably get to play some more. Looking forward to it.
In the meantime, be sure to come by tomorrow for this game's statistical recap, as well as a review of the Flames, now officially halfway through the season!