Friends, it is not the second period. The Calgary Flames have been outscored in the second period so far in this young season; yes, this is true. But it is not the second period causing the Flames' woes. It's not even the mess that is the entire goaltending situation, or bad goaltending in general. It's not injuries. It isn't even just the Washington Capitals being a better team.
The Calgary Flames are, inherently, down to their core, a bad team. This is a team that, just a few years ago, sold off their superstars well past their best before dates and got meagre returns in response. This is a team that, following that time, firmly earned their fourth overall selection in the draft.
And this is still the team that made a surprise run to the playoffs just a few months ago, and even won a round. It's the exact same team.
The 2014-15 Flames were bad, but lucky. The 2015-16 Flames are just plain bad.
This isn't to say they'll be bad forever. There are some good pieces on this roster; there are legitimate hopes for the future present on the Flames. But they are not there yet. And as long as they continue to hold firm to the status quo and refuse to accept that certain key personnel are directly responsible for this being a bad team (yes, I am talking about someone who won a trophy very recently, although no doubt there are some bad players and bad contracts present as well), they will remain a bad team.
Oh right, I'm sorry. There was an actual game on tonight, too! Somebody forgot to tell the Flames.
They did score first - a rather nice set up when John Carlson turned the puck over to Johnny Gaudreau, who deftly tapped it to Sean Monahan, who wristed it to give his team the 1-0 lead - but it was essentially all Capitals after that.
Before that goal, Karri Ramo made a ridiculously awesome desperation save on Alex Ovechkin:
He also saved Brett Kulak's butt on an unfortunate turnover the rookie defenceman made right onto Brooks Laich's stick.
Ramo tried, but there's only so much he could overcome. Certainly not:
- Dennis Wideman getting completely spun around by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, to the extent he wasn't even looking at Burakovsky when he tied the game towards the end of the first;
- Having no clue where the puck was to start the second, resulting in him looking the wrong way for the rebound while Ovechkin tapped home the very easy rebound for his 900th point, all the while both Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton decided Ovechkin wasn't a priority to cover;
- Justin Williams passing the puck literally through Wideman's legs to Nicklas Backstrom to make it 3-1, all the while the Flames stood around and did nothing, and;
- T.J. Oshie's goal to make it 4-1 just 41 seconds later, again without a teammate trying.
Could Ramo have been better? Sure. Was he getting an ounce of help? Nope. And in came Jonas Hiller to try to stop the bleeding, wake the Flames up, do something.
And maybe it worked to start. Giordano brought the puck into the offensive zone, and after dishing it to a teammate, went straight to the front of the net. Michael Frolik had some fancy little dangling at the side in order to slide it over to Giordano, and the Flames' captain capitalized, making it a 4-2 game.
After which Hamilton tried to dangle his way through the entire offensive zone, only to end up caught near the far red line without a scoring chance and having lost the puck. That set the Caps up for an easy two-on-one with Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle against Kris Russell; Chimera kept the puck and sniped it to make it a 5-2 game.
Oh, and then Backstrom made it 6-2 off of a terrible Kulak pinch, deftly fighting through Joe Colborne's attempt to hold him off and resulting in Hiller letting in a brutal goal (and he knew it).
That was the final score. The Flames were outshot 30-19, out-corsied 59-43 (52-36 at even strength). They deserved every bit of this loss, just as they have deserved their 1-5 record to start the season - because this is a bad team, and this is how bad teams perform.
- Listen, friends, I love T.J. Brodie. He is my favourite current Flame. The Flames are very much missing him at the moment, and his presence would seriously give the defence the shot in the arm it needs. Giordano and Hamilton are not working together. Wideman and Russell have never worked together (and yet, are continuously being relied on). Brodie's presence would give a much-needed breakup to these pairings (uh, in theory). But one defenceman - no matter how good that defenceman actually may be - is not enough to fix things.
- To some credit, Hartley did break up the disastrous defence pairings for the third period; Giordano went with Wideman, and Hamilton went with Russell. They were still bad, though. Wideman in particular has no actual clue how to defend, and it's embarrassing. He's also not going to score 50 points this season, so get settled in.
- The Flames are weak defensively; they are putrid offensively. A year ago, the Flames weren't getting many pucks to the net, but it didn't matter: they had one of the highest shooting percentages in the NHL. They don't have that this year, and suddenly, it's not just that the Flames aren't scoring: it's that they don't look like they're even trying to score. Funny how things work when literally the only change is the bounces aren't going your way.
- The powerplay is a microcosm of this. The Flames had two powerplays in the first, and spent most of that time fishing the puck out from their own end than setting up any scoring chances. I'm pretty sure they had more chances when the Capitals were on the powerplay when they had their own, really.
- I will say this for the Flames: they have Gaudreau, and that kid really, really, really wants to friggin' score. My favourite moment was probably when he singlehandedly created a chance by stealing the puck from Backstrom in the Flames' end. He then ran it up the entire length of the ice all on his own, and took a shot on Braden Holtby. It was 100% Gaudreau, with nary a help or aid from a single teammate. It was incredible.
- On the flip side: Brandon Bollig. Bollig had two prime scoring chances through the game, and he failed to convert on either of them. Why? Because he's Brandon Bollig, and he's not going to score. And that's fine. That's not his role.
- But then that begs the question: What is his role, exactly? Bollig took an incredibly lazy kneeing penalty on Burakosvky, just kind of half-assedly sticking his leg out in an attempt to... I'm not sure what he was trying to do, actually. But I do know that Bob Hartley has benched and scratched significantly more talented players for less. This season, even! And this season is only six games old!
- Brad Treliving did a lot of things right in the offseason. He acquired Hamilton for next to nothing, and while that's not paying immediate dividends, it should long-term. He targeted Frolik in free agency, and Frolik has been wonderful. He made sure the Flames retained Giordano and Mikael Backlund.
- But because everything was so shiny without actual hockey being played, it's overlooked just how many times he's erred. He gave Ramo a raise out of nowhere and had no contingency plan for leaving his team stuck with three waiver-eligible goalies. He failed to move out any bad contracts, and that very much includes Wideman, who will never again look as good as he did in 2014-15. He waived Paul Byron seemingly for no reason, and the Flames lost a quality depth forward for nothing.
- You know what the worst part of all of this is? In 2013-14, the Flames were bad, but they tried. Through whatever means, Hartley gave them a shot in the arm, and though you knew they weren't going to win most nights, they still gave an entertaining effort. In 2014-15, the Flames were bad, but they weren't just lucky: they still tried. You had no idea if they were going to win or lose, but you knew you were going to have fun watching them.
- To start 2015-16, the Flames aren't fun to watch. Fuck expectations, I want entertaining hockey. I was going to say it's not present in Calgary, but that's not fair to the Hitmen, nor is it fair to the Inferno. But at the NHL level, it's insipid, uninspired, and just plain bad. And quotes from various organizational members saying they're just gonna have to try harder isn't going to fix it.
The Flames have the next two days to think long and hard about why they have suddenly decided to stop trying to actually play hockey, as well as adjust to this new reality where they are not plucky underdogs and instead, rather, not a great team.
After those two days, they host the Detroit Red Wings. Friday, Oct. 23, 7:00 p.m., the Saddledome. Will there be any meaningful changes? Will these longstanding issues be addressed? Ehhh, probably not.