If there’s a definition of the cliché “perfect road game,” the Calgary Flames offered proof of it Thursday night in LA, coming back from an early deficit to beat the Kings 2-1 in a shootout.
The home team scored early in the game on a bit of a fluke. The puck went into the Flames’ zone on the stick of Justin Williams, and then bounced off a defenseman’s skate and right to Dustin Brown, who whipped it into the net. No further scoring took place in the first, a period the Kings had the advantage in, outshooting Calgary 8-3. So part one of the definition by that measure would be, “get down early but then hold on tight.”
The Flames got on the board in the second on a power play goal by their captain, Iginla, after they had done nothing with an early 5-on-3 power play. They also saw their goalie hold them in by making an outstanding leg save, closing the five-hole tight as that early goal scorer, Brown, once again swooped in on net.
The Calgary goal, by the way, came almost exactly halfway through the game, and from then on, it was more Calgary who had the momentum than LA. So point two of the definition might just be, “after letting the other side surge, take the energy from them.”
Almost while nobody was looking the Flames crept even with the Kings on shots. It was, for instance, 12-8 for the Kings with about twelve minutes left in period two and the score still 1-0. As mentioned, Calgary tied it halfway, but still lagged in shots. With three minutes left in the second period, they were down 17-11.
The power play goal, incidentally, took place with the high forward not holding a stick for LA. That was Trevor Lewis, and the reason was he had given his to Willie Mitchell. The problem was, Mitchell shoots the opposite way from Lewis, so he was holding a twig that must have felt awkward for him. In any case, the puck came across the high slot and past Lewis, and Iginla teed it up and shot it short side where Mitchell and Quick both were helpless to stop it. After the game, Iginla said, “They broke their stick, and . . . we were just looking to kind of work the guy without the stick. On that side, it happened to be me. I got it a couple of times and didn’t have a lot of time to walk into a shot. I’m just trying to shoot it hard to an area, and fortunately it went in.”
In fact, he also furthered that definition of “perfect road game,” commenting, “We stayed with it, and I thought in the middle of the first we started getting some momentum there.” He added later, “We didn’t get flustered. Coming out of the first only down one was a boost, and we got back in it.”
The Flames continued their surge as the second period turned to the third. At halfway through the final period, it was 20-20 in shots. Curiously, that fact, which would appear to show the pendulum swinging toward the eventual winner, Calgary, isn’t important to the Kings’ coach. When asked about the shift, he said, “No, shot total don’t tell me nothing. If it did, then . . . [pause] I don’t know what difference that makes,” and with that, he stood there while the assembled press corps shrugged, went silent, and then called it a night.
It doesn’t take much to realize, however, that more shots at some statistical level means more goals, or at the very least, more offensive zone time, and that’s what Calgary increasingly got in the game.
So to put the final nail in the coffin, or the final point on the definition of “perfect road game,” how about this: “Slowly take control, keep pressing, and in the end, things will go your way.”
The Kings thought the best thing to do was put their grinding lines out late, with Lewis and his crew there and then Clifford and his in the last two minutes. Curious? Impossible to tell what Sutter was thinking, except maybe to keep it tight and go for the point in OT.
But after the game, he wasn’t at all talkative. A question came about the team’s constant involvement in OT games, and he said, “Not really,” and then said something of which only “sixty minutes” was audible.
The problem as Sutter saw it was not bearing down. “We had three empty nets in overtime, and when you’ve got those guys in net, it’s about second, third bear down opportunities. We had the opportunities.”
But again, they didn’t take advantage, as their offense stumbled despite good chances. To his credit, Kiprusoff played an outstanding game in facing 32 shots including five in OT. The Flames then put the cap on the night by scoring in their first and second shootout tries while LA scored in just its second.
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And if you’re in SoCal, come to Vroman’s books in Pasadena February 9th at 7pm to hear me read from my new book, My Country Is Hockey. For info, email me at IH.