The Calgary Flames came into the game looking to avoid falling to .500 on the season, but ultimately came up short despite playing a magnificent game against the Minnesota Wild. They also lost Jaromir Jagr who left the game with a lower body injury and did not return. Ultimately the difference in goaltending between Minnesota and Calgary cost them the game as the Flames dominated in every other facet of the game.
Glen Gulutzan started off with the line up of Curtis Lazar, Sam Bennett, and Micheal Ferland to go along with the pairing of Brett Kulak and Michael Stone. While the results weren’t what one would call good, it was nice to see the guys who had been scratched get some love from the coach. They yielded a shot against in their 21 seconds of ice time.
Matthew Tkachuk drew a penalty off of the ensuing faceoff when he was tripped up by Mikko Koivu. The Wild touched up only 47 seconds in and the Flames went to work on their first power play of the night. They held the zone for about a minute and 40 seconds or so, but couldn’t get one by Alex Stalock who was impressive for Minnesota’s first penalty kill. The Flames had five shots on net in the two minutes of power play time.
Dougie Hamilton slashed Chris Stewart a few minutes later and the Flames went to the penalty kill 4:53 into the period. The Flames were considerably more paltry than the Wild as Minnesota managed just one shot. It was a boring but impressive P.K. and looked better than they had in some previous games.
The Flames received another power play opportunity 7:21 into the game and this one was starting to look like a battle between two of the three teams with the worst penalty differentials in the league. This time it was Gustav Olafsson who went off for hooking Johnny Gaudreau. The Flames managed two shot attempts before Minnesota finished off the clear.
The Flames were dominating the Wild thanks in large part to their power play opportunities, but both teams were held in check. Calgary had a 16 to six shot attempt advantage with 8:35 left in the first period. They were playing at a torrid pace with 11 scoring chances for and Minnesota should have found themselves in a hole if not for the work of Stalock.
The Flames found themselves with even more power play time at the 5:46 mark thanks to Lazar. Lazar used his speed to chip the puck in and Koivu had to hook in order to encumber him. Troy Brouwer replaced Jagr on the power play who left to the dressing room, but the results were the same. Gaudreau had a redirection out front which hit the post and the Flames added a couple more shots on net, but the score remained tied at zero all.
Jagr didn’t return for the remainder of the period as neither team managed to score. Shot attempts were 15 to 11 in favour of the Flames at even strength, but power play differential plus their excellent play on said power plays gave them a 28 to 14 advantage in all scenarios. It was arguably the Flames best period all year.
Jagr did not return to the bench for the second period, so clearly the issue was medical. Minnesota started off a bit more aggressively in the than they had in the first, gaining the zone and taking a shot at smith which hit him in the mask. There was a brief stoppage as Smith made some repairs followed by a brief moment where the referees talked with Toronto to see if smith had to go out for the concussion protocol, but play resumed with Smith no worse for the ware. Shortly thereafter it was revealed that Jagr had a lower body injury and was questionable to return.
Calgary actually drew a huge break on this sequence as Stewart tipped the puck in after the puck hit the mask. Section 3 rule 9.6 of the rule book states:
When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has possession of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has possession of the puck, play shall only be stopped of there is no immediate and impending opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team's end zone face-off spots.
The Flames never had control of the puck ergo the goal should have counted, but as Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos oh so eloquently pointed out one cannot blame the officials for making safety the first, second, and third priority.
Stone wrapped his arm around the midsection of Zach Mitchell. He managed to injure himself in the process so Tkachuk went to the box while Stone went to the back 2:50 into the period. Brouwer showed a terrible lack of awareness only 43 seconds later as he interfered with Eric Staal which sent the Wild to a five-on-three. They made sure not to squander it and Chris Stewart sent in his own rebound with just two seconds remaining on the Stone penalty (Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon picked up the assists). The Flames killed the remainder of the Brouwer one.
The game went into a television time out with 13:17 remaining in the period and Stone was back out on the bench when play was restored. He was seen icing his right hand on the bench. It looked to be an injury to the second metacarpal, but they never officially announced what was wrong.
The Flames drew some bad luck as the referees missed a blatant trip on T.J. Brodie, but play continued. Both teams were finally managing to stay out of the box for the first time in the game and chances normalized a bit. Jason Zucker skated in with speed and had Quick beat for a goal, but he lost the handle. Calgary had a great chance going the other way when Stalock left a juicy rebound, but it just bounced out of the reach of Gaudreau.
Calgary had some great chances, but Stalock was stellar. Fortunately for the Flames Brouwer was able to atone for his sins when he picked the pick from Ryan Suter in the offensive zone and feather a perfect pass to Sean Monahan who had nothing but daylight to even up the score with a paltry 28 seconds remaining in the period. Suter never had full control which gave Brodie the secondary assist off of the dump in. Things got even better for the Flames when Bruce Boudreau decided to challenge the play offside only to be rebuked giving the Flames the power play heading into the third period.
The Flames started on the power play and Gaudreau drew a slash on Suter just 23 seconds in giving them a five-on-three of their own. They capitalized another 20 seconds later when Kris Versteeg (who was mistaken for Pat Verbeek by the Hockey Night in Canada crew) drove in on Stalock rebound and gave the Flames a two to one lead. Brodie received the primary assist while Gaudreau picked up the secondary.
Unfortunately for the Flames the lead wouldn’t last. Suter managed to make up for his own mistake when he got control of the puck and fired an laser of a shot that beat Quick to even the score at two-all. Staal and Luke Kunin picked up the assists with 9:27 left in the game.
The Wild managed to take the league less than two minutes later at the 12:08 mark. Spurgeon got control of the puck on the near side dot and fired a slapshot that beat Smith five hole giving them a three to two lead in a goal that Smith probably wanted back. Suter picked up the lone assist. On one hand, Calgary was unfortunate to be down as scoring chances favoured them 38 to 24. On the other hand, they were lucky that they didn’t trail by more given the disallowed goal early in the second.
The Flames had a huge opportunity to tie it late when Kyle Quincey slashed Ferland giving them their fifth power play opportunity of the night. They were buzzing in the zone, but never managed to put it home despite pulling smith with about seven seconds remaining in the power play. Power play time expired and the Daniel Winnik put the Wild up for good with the empty net goal with a minute and three seconds left. Kunin picked up his second assist of the night as the Flames went down by a score of four to two.
The Flames played stellar hockey throughout, but Stalock was simply outstanding for the Wild allowing just one goal in 25 shots at even strength and another one in a five on three scenario. He was the main reason they were able to take this one home. Smith wasn’t going to keep playing that torrid pace he was at and slipped a bit in this one allowing two goals in 22 shots at even strength.
Fans were clamouring to see Brett Kulak enter the lineup tonight over Matt Bartkowski. While he did better than Bartkowski did in his last action, he was still dead last in possession for the Flames. It’s very hard to win when the defense isn’t able to push puck possession and if this keeps up it’s going to be very concerning if nobody can play with stone given the contract he was just awarded.
Similar concerns have to be expressed towards Lazar who the Flames gave up a second round pick for. He found himself back in the lineup tonight only to see himself as last on the team in shot attempt ratio at even strength and out there for a goal against. The numbers for his Flames career possession wise are starting to echo those for the ones he had with the Ottawa Senators and other than drawing the penalty he’s starting to look like a failed experiment.
Tkachuk managed to make some things happen, but Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik had a rare off game. They weren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but they normally make more happen and the Flames could have used that tonight. They’ve never seen sustained poor play so there’s no reason to be concerned about them.
First Star - Alex Stalock
Second Star - Ryan Suter
Third Star - Jared Spurgeon