Calgary didn’t exactly romp through Los Angeles on Thursday night in the first of a SoCal back-to-back, but Darryl Sutter was the coach who said “It’s a 3-2 league” a few years ago when he coached in Cali, and that was the score by which his second-time-new team, the Flames, steamed past the Kings.
The goals came all before the end of the second period. The Kings actually opened the scoring, Iafallo getting the game’s first goal at 4:30 of the first period. The Flames then scored three in a row. The Kings clawed back a goal with under two minutes left in the middle period. There would be no more. The Flames held on to go to a record of 14-4-5. They went to 7-1-2 in the last ten, and won their second in a row.
They were set to repeat the task on Friday in Anaheim for a 7pm start. The game had lots of action in period one, but no scoring. There were some close calls, though. Noah Hanifin of Calgary put a puck off Gibson’s blocker, and then the crossbar. Then Cam Fowler hit the post from down low on a power play.
Then it was Hanifin again, coming down the left side unmarked, getting a backhand pass, and redirecting the puck towards a wide open net and hitting the post. Sonny Milano came straight down center with sticks on him and wheeled a shot with one hand, then got the rebound. Matthew Tkachuk got in behind the defense and deked Gibson, slowly, but the goaltender out-waited him. Troy Terry did a toe drag and hit the post. Sam Steel made a cross-ice pass to Henrique, who shot over the net. All of that and no scoring.
The second period both opened and closed with a bang, the Ducks scoring early and late. The trouble was, the Flames put in three in between. The first goal came at 54 seconds, from Sonny Milano. The last of the period was with 35 seconds left, by Rakell. The Flames got theirs from Blake Coleman, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan, well spread out from just past three minutes to just past fifteen. More than once, players were in all alone behind the defense. This is not how a Sutter team typically plays. The Ducks managed to open them up, though, and mistakes be darned.
Come to think of it, this was exactly the pattern of the night prior, when the Kings bracketed three Calgary goals with two of their own. Still, one imagines that Darryl Sutter wasn’t happy with getting scored on early—gotta start on time—or late—nothing like a momentum killer going into the room for the period break.
The third period yielded a tying goal early on, by Vinni Lettieri with Zegras and Drysdale assisting. For Zegras, that made two on the night, five in the last two games, and a spot right near the top of the rookie scoring race. In the last 18 games, he has 17 points.
The goal was a masterpiece of passing, with four sharp passes before Lettieri shot a one-timer over the leg of goaltender Dan Vladar. He had no chance.
Letteiri commented on his goal, and the team’s play, after the game. “After the second period we had a good talk. [Shattenkirk] helped to calm us down. Stay within our structure. They’re coming off a back-to-back here, and we said keep putting pressure on them and sticking to our structure. We answered back in the third, and at least we got a point out of it.”
About the goal: “He [Zegras] just teed one up for me, and I got lucky there and found the back of the net.” He also complimented the puck movement that led up to that moment.
No more goals were scored, and none in OT. The Flames did press in the final minute of regulation, putting shots successively in from the point and forcing Gibson to make good saves. The OT was unimpressive from both sides, and the shootout went only two rounds. The Ducks saw Vladar make two good saves, one in the glove and one off the blocker, and watched while the Flames dumped two goals in themselves. The winner was a Matthew Tkachuk leave-behind play where he was on the left of the crease, his stick was on the right, and he pushed the puck just over the line.
Coach Eakins was critical of a part of his team’s effort afterwards, saying, “We played very well in the first period, and we played very well in the third period. The second period, we got away from our game, and that’s also a reminder too. If we want to be an elite team, we have to play a certain way. If we’re not going to do it to a man, then we are going to very quickly get in trouble. I think our group has learned enough lessons, and it’s time to take another step forward.”
He also commented on the pace and schedule, which as I note below, doesn’t get any softer: “A team like this comes in, it’s a test. It’s nonstop. I’m just happy that we—you know, we just played three games in four nights. The schedule’s been relentless on our guys. At least now we get to wake up tomorrow and not have to prepare to play or to prepare to practice and then we have a day of practice. That’s the biggest thing for our group right now: just to reset mentally and take a breath and then get ready for a tough road trip. We’re going to start with a back-to-back and then we’re going to finish the same way.”
The shots turned out to be 36-34 in Calgary’s favor. Faceoffs were 55% for the Ducks.
The Ducks will soon embark on a five-game road trip. Not remarkable, except that this is five games in seven days. And to start and end the stint, there are pairs of back-to-back games.
Adam Henrique did not come out for period three, and the team cited a lower-body injury.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.