Well, the Calgary Flames certainly got the start they needed. Criticized for falling off at the beginning of games and only really showing up for the third, they were going hard to the net and filling the slot after waiting several minutes for the Winnipeg Jets' home opener ceremony to get on with itself.
It paid off, too. At long last, Bob Hartley put Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik together on one line. Early into the game, Backlund won an offensive zone faceoff, and Bennett ended up with the puck. He took it around the net, going for the wraparound goal, but Ondrej Pavelec stayed with him. Fortunately, Backlund was waiting right at the top of the blue paint, and with perfect composure, collected the rebound to score his first of the year, and put the Flames up by one.
The Flames survived a lot of Jets opportunities - most notably caused by not just Winnipeg's top line, but Nikolaj Ehlers as well - before finally giving up the tying goal. Bryan Little beat out Dennis Wideman in the Flames' crease, and Blake Wheeler's pass deflected off his teammate, tying the game at one.
Calgary survived three straight penalty kills, all thanks to Josh Jooris (a tripping call, and then a high-sticking double minor) to set up a tight third that saw the Jets, and really only the Jets, pressing.
With just 1:28 to go, things finally paid off for them. Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler miscommunicated, and Dustin Byfuglien beat out Wideman to completely miss his shot. He missed his shot - but Karri Ramo left just enough space to let him score off of a horrific angle. Byfgulien was amazed he scored, so... that's never a good sign.
Enter: the coach's challenge! Bob Hartley got to dish out the first coach's challenge in Flames history, questioning if Byfuglien was offside. It was worthy of a challenge, but he lost it. Byfuglien was in control of the puck when he crossed the blue line, and so, the Jets took their first lead of the game with the game nearly over.
Ramo was pulled immediately after, but it was for naught. Wheeler scored the empty netter with just 52.8 seconds to go, and that was that: a 3-1 victory for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Flames were outshot 30-20, and out-corsied 57-40 (46-34 at even strength). The Jets had 19 shot attempts every single period; the Flames, 16, then 15, then nine. They needed to score more than one goal. They didn't seem to want to try.
Flame of the game
It was Mark Giordano. A thousand praises for Gio and his stellar defending through the night. A few notable incidents: saving the Flames' asses when Deryk Engelland turned the puck over by taking out the ever-threatening Ehlers, who was in line for a sure goal, by hooking him; once again, just poking the puck away from Ehlers, preventing him from even getting a shot off; and doing the same thing to Byfuglien when he went on a clean break.
Giordano is a monster defensively. The offence will hopefully come soon. And we should all watch out when T.J. Brodie comes back, because that's when things are probably gonna get real good, as they have been the past two seasons.
- The Flames were there for the first, but really fell off as the game went on. It often felt like they had little interest in creating their own offence, and were instead hoping for lucky breaks to go their way; meanwhile, Ramo was often left flailing to keep his team in it.
- Ramo had a terrible season opener, but looked better this game - although that wasn't difficult to do, considering. He had a few good moments, but never particularly inspired confidence, and was more lucky than anything else. The first goal wasn't his fault, but the game winning goal can never be allowed to go in... and yet, in it went. He was increasingly less sharp as the game went on, and it ended up costing his team.
- As for the Flames' weak offence: outside of Gaudreau, it seemed like nobody was particularly interested in scoring. Over these first four games of the season, Gaudreau looks very interested in scoring. Almost every single shift. He's a bloodhound. A tiny, tiny bloodhound who had four shots on net, more than anybody not named Mason Raymond.
- Raymond also had four shots, and would seem to really want to stay in the NHL.
- Bennett's first point of season looked an awful lot like his first NHL point, which also came in Winnipeg. Off the faceoff, Bennett went for a wraparound, and Micheal Ferland, waiting at the top of the crease, was the immediate beneficiary. The same thing happened this time around, just switch out Micheal for Mikael.
- The Bennett - Backlund - Frolik line needs to remain a thing. Aside from Gaudreau trying to do things singlehandedly, they were the only ones to look even remotely like an offensive threat. Bennett and Backlund just picked right back up where they left things off in the playoffs, while Frolik adds an extra all-around "awesome player" factor to the line in all situations. And while Bennett is still adapting to the NHL and the grind of an 82-game regular season, he should absolutely stay with the European Mikes, because they're two of the more responsible and inspired players the Flames have.
- As exciting as Sean Monahan is, this is only his third season, and he's not exactly looking like a first liner to start the year. He looks on track to one day become one, but he isn't as outstanding defensively as it initially appears. This was especially highlighted when Byfuglien almost had a clean breakaway off of a turnover Monahan was directly responsible for.
- Wideman is there offensively. He is not there defensively. And is actually better away from Kris Russell.
- Russell had the occasional smart defensive play, but for the most part, the two do not work together well at all. Godspeed in your return, Brodie. One has to wonder what the Flames' record would be with him in the lineup, because they need a deeper defence than what they currently have.
- Brandon Bollig ended up with like three scoring chances throughout the game, but wasn't a threat in any of them.
Get ready, because the Flames have a very quick turnaround. They're back home tomorrow night to host the Edmonton Oilers in the first Battle of Alberta of the season. The Oilers' legion of first overall picks will probably be hoping this year goes different, while the Flames, with a much sturdier defence, are going to work to up the Flames' winning streak against their northern brethren to eight.
Saturday, Oct. 17. 8 p.m. The Saddledome. Let's do this. Let's try to actually score some goals and not give up any awful ones.