CALGARY—On a night where James Neal, seemingly scoring at will, nearly bested his scoring from all of last season, the Flames struggled to score for the first period and a half of regulation on Tuesday.
After netting two first period goals, Ilya Kovalchuk added on to Los Angeles’ lead early in the second period. Looking for a response, Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk answered at 10:51 of the second before Noah Hanifin would cash in minutes later and Tkachuk would score the game-tying goal late in the third period to force OT.
But starting the extra-frame with carry-over time on a Kings power play proved to be problematic as Drew Doughty scored the game-winner on 50 seconds in.
It was an exciting finish to a game that started considerably flat, the Flames outshot 20-3 after the first 20 minutes. Much like they did for parts of last season, they mounted a comeback.
It’s undoubtedly a storyline that Flames coach Bill Peters would rather not reenact again this year. But it is a fine line to walk, to be sure. There is something to be said about the resiliency shown by a team that always seems to find a way–as the Flames often did last year–but there is something equally telling about a team that performs for a full 60 minutes night in and night out.
The ability to bounce back is always an encouraging sign, but Bill Peters labeled the Flames start to Tuesday’s contest “alarming and disappointing at the same time”. Constantly coming from behind in games is not a wise approach, especially when there remain 89 games left to play. Third period desperation is a worthy precedent to set, but doing so all season long is going to prove too tiresome to sustain.
Peters wasn’t without blame in the loss, accrediting part of the slow start to his and his coaching staff’s inability to motivate them to start the game, stating that the “emotional effort wasn’t good enough” and that “it’s on the coaching staff to figure out how to get guys going at the drop of the puck”.
On the other side of the comeback-coin, come-from-behind wins are often momentum swinging, season-defining moments for a team. Ask the St. Louis Blues about comebacks; before winning the cup last year, the first half of their season left them in the league’s basement before going on to win the Cup.
Or you can jump back to last year’s Flames home matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers. Down 5-3 with less than two minutes left, the Flames found a way to put two in before Johnny Gaudreau won it 35 seconds into overtime. Those comeback wins are the ones a team remembers come playoff time when time is ticking late in must-win games.
A comeback that falls short, while entertaining, serves little more purpose than a single point in the standings. For a Flames team that finished first in the West last season, single points are not the path back to success. But as mentioned, comebacks are an exceptional way to serve as a season kickstarter too. Last year’s comeback win against the Flyers was exactly that. Winning with the aid of last-minute heroics sends a message to the fanbase and instills a sense of belief in a team. Instilling that belief is necessary for teams that plan on playing late in the spring.
As with most things in hockey, it boils down to timing. There is a time for comeback wins, certainly, it’s just not three games into the season. Building resiliency is a process and one best left for the second half of the season, when the games start to register on the radar. The third game of the season can be chalked up as an anomaly, for better or for worse–it’s the stretch before playoffs that define teams and their mental fortitude.
This part of the season is about winning outright, not coming from behind.
With that being said, the Flames will take their single point, bitter as it may be now, and look to this game as a lesson in stronger starts.