The Calgary Flames lost their season opener … again. That makes 12 in a row to extend their dubious NHL record. Worse, it was at the hands of their biggest rival, the Edmonton Oilers.
The Battle of Alberta featured much of the intensity and post-whistle scrumming you might expect, but the Oilers pounded on the Flames when it came to capitalizing on their scoring chances. Connor McDavid netted a hat-trick in front of his grandmother to lead the way for the hosts, who were far from hospitable, winning 5-2 despite being outshot 47-32.
You’d think it was a complete disaster. And yet, there is reason to be hopeful as a Flames fan. No, seriously. Not all of these are positive, but here are five takeaways from Game 1:
1. The Flames shut-down pairing did not look good against McDavid
Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov knew they would see a lot of time against the Oilers’ best players McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Turns out the matchup was even tougher than Zadorov alluded to leading up to the action.
The real killer on the night was Jesse Puljujarvi’s second of the year, coming just 26 seconds after Elias Lindholm closed the gap to a single goal with a powerplay marker early in the third period. That one was a dagger to their hearts and the Tanev/Zadorov duo couldn’t keep up with the snappy passing. Zadorov leaned in with his stick but missed the lead pass from Codi Ceci, and Tanev couldn’t get across before Puljujarvi released the shot.
“We were doing a decent job in the o-zone and they make a breakout pass and it’s in the back of our net. Just a tough bounce,” Mangiapane said after the game. “Battling all night to get back into it, we finally do, but it’s a tough goal to give up there.
The Oilers captain scored twice on the powerplay and once into an empty net. The silver lining there is that five on five, the Flames actually managed to keep that monster line from doing much damage. Which brings me to my next takeaway.
2. Possession game was in favour of the Flames at even strength
Considering the Flames threw 47 pucks at goaltender Mike Smith, you might expect that they controlled more of the play than the score suggests. You’d be right. They had a significant edge in Corsi, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances and expected goals-for when playing at even strength.
Teams typically win more than they lose playing that way when the ice isn’t tilted by the man-advantage. They just need to stay out of the box, and that double minor to defenceman Rasmus Andersson was a tough one.
3. Andersson might avoid suspension for apparent head-butt
At first glance, it looked like the exchange between Andersson and Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto would lead to a league review. The angle really made it look like the young Calgary Flames defenceman led with his head.
But a reverse angle had the Hockey Night in Canada panel wondering whether Andersson actually connected with a left-handed punch as he turned and dipped his head while leaning in. The league will definitely have another look but he might avoid the suspension that initially seemed unavoidable.
4. The offensive players need to stick to the script
Andrew Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm both scored trademark goals, and Matthew Tkachuk had a stellar powerplay assist while blasting nine of his own shots at Smith. Not much went in for them but the bottom line is only two skaters failed to register a shot on the night – Tanev and Trevor Lewis.
You’d like to see more from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but they did combine for a handful of shots on goal. Gaudreau also continued to trend upward in his defensive awareness while leading ALL players in ice time with 23:57 (in part thanks to the fact they played only 11 forwards).
5. The Calgary Flames didn’t quit, and stuck up for each other
One thing that was really lacking last season was a sense of identity and team unity.
Maybe it was the energy in the building, or the rough stuff after the whistles, but you really get the sense this team feels a sense of community after going through a full and relatively normal training camp.
The importance of team chemistry can’t be understated in the NHL.
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