The Calgary Flames have the third period figured out. The first two periods, not so much.
Facing a strong St. Louis Blues team on Saturday night, they faltered through the first two periods, riding the strong play of David Rittich to a 2-0 deficit before coming back, once again, in the third period.
Forcing overtime, the Flames controlled the puck for the first minute before a turnover in the neutral zone caught T.J Brodie flat-footed, resulting in a two-minute holding penalty. The Blues took advantage on a patient 4-on-3 powerplay and left Saturday night with two points.
The consolation point for Flames fans is both a positive and a negative. A team that can scratch out a point coming back against the defending cup champions is a strong indicator of responding to adversity, but faltering early and often is becoming a stale theme for the Flames.
It’s a familiar storyline that Flames fans would rather like to leave and let die. Comeback wins are character building, yes, but championship teams don’t rely on third-period heroics to win consistently–and certainly not come playoff time. Coming from behind is too mentally exhausting to sustain through an entire season. Something needs to change to get the Flames better prepared to start games.
Despite their two mediocre periods to start the game, coach Bill Peters was generally happy with the Flames play against the defending Stanley Cup champions, stating “It was a hard-fought game, not a lot of room out there, but we’re headed in the right direction”.
Hosting the defending Stanley Cup champions is a good measuring stick for any team, but especially so for a Flames team that has struggled to find their place early this season. To say that the Blues brought the game to the Flames would be a fair assessment. The Flames defensive zone was a mess through two periods, watching a well-tuned Blues team function an efficient cycle and work the outside till they found their shots from the slot. The Blues quality of scoring chances was threefold to that of the Flames.
David Rittich was the sole reason for the Flames single point. Undoubtedly his play this season has been the brightest spot for the Flames, tied for the league lead in wins and shutouts. His ability to track pucks has been a welcome sign for an organization that has been looking for a number one netminder for nearly a decade.
It’s the play in front of him that needs to be tuned up.
The defensive core has been middling this year with even captain Mark Giordano’s game slipping a little from where it was last year. Of course, he won the Norris last year and a decline from that level of play is almost expected, especially as he enters the latter part of his career. Giordano’s play overshadows the up and down play of his frequent partner, T.J Brodie who watched from the box as the Blues snatched the extra point.
Brodie’s play this season is merely an extension of his play from years past. A brilliant skating defenseman, it’s often his decision making that gets him into trouble, as it did on Saturday. For a player who makes the bulk of his salary because of his skating, the optics weren’t great taking a holding penalty as he got burned through the middle of the ice.
The rest of the Flames game was relatively sound on Saturday, with the exception of Milan Lucic’s play with the puck. The new Flame addition is a man of two tales this season. Away from the puck, Lucic is making a strong impact in games. Finishing his checks, hard on the forecheck, and skating hard to stay in good defensive position have all been positive effects for the former cup champion. The problems arise when he’s forced to make a play with the puck.
For a player who is no stranger to scoring 50 points, he looks like he’s gripping his stick a little too tight. Making simple plays seems to be his go-to, but often the puck finds itself bouncing around in his feet which ensues a minor panic. Welcomed by a chorus of “LUUUUCH” each time he’s involved in the play, it’s clear the fans want to see him succeed, and by and large he’s filling his role quite well–if he can just take a fraction of a second more to settle down his play with the puck his impact could play a significant difference in games.
Sam Bennett was a force on Saturday night. A borderline charging call in the third period was exactly what the Flames needed, and will continue to expect from him on a nightly basis. His style of play is effective but sporadic. Coach Peters needs to find a way to motivate the young winger to play that way on a shift-by-shift basis.
Facing his dad’s old team, Matthew Tkachuk was quiet through two periods before netting the Flames opening goal. His start to the season has most Flames fans thrilled. He’s likely heir to Giordano’s captaincy when the time comes, and it may come as early as next season. He’s done it all this season–Mr. Everything for a Flames team that has had miserable first line success with the Monahan/Gaudreau/Lindholm line.
So the season rambles on for the Flames, looking a little hesitant and overwhelmed at times on Saturday night. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but putting those positive steps consistently forward has been the Flames downfall early this season. The next few weeks are a crucial time for them to prove their worth this season.