Flames Veterans On Notice, There’s Competition For Jobs Now
Milan Lucic was scratched for Matthew Phillips as Calgary Flames look for spark from competition.
For Milan Lucic, it was likely absolute misery. But for Calgary Flames call-up Matthew Phillips, it was music.
The veteran Lucic was healthy scratched for the first time in nearly a decade, with Phillips inserted for just the second NHL game of his career.
His first almost doesn’t count. It was during the pandemic, and no fans were even there to watch. This one was in an Original Six city. Against the vaunted Toronto Maple Leafs. On Hockey Night in Canada.
It doesn’t get much bigger.
Which is funny, because players don’t get much smaller than the somewhere-between-5-foot-7-or-8 Phillips, who weighs maybe-more-than-140-but-definitely-not-160-lbs.
In the 5-4 overtime loss to the Leafs, Phillips finished with one shot in 9:21 minutes, including 1:34 on the powerplay.
A wild night for the 24-year-old Calgarian. All that was missing was the win.
“Pretty anxious day,” Phillips said afterward on Sportsnet 960 radio. “Pretty excited. It doesn’t get any better than Toronto, Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada. I had to pinch myself a little bit out there.
“There was a ton of adrenalin. Obviously you want to win a game like that, but pretty cool.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter didn’t say much about it, generally commenting on Phillips and Radim Zohorna saying they “got some decent minutes” from the insertion of youth. Zohorna played on Friday and Saturday as well.
“We tried to put some of the kids in the lineup to give us a little bit of pop these two games,” Sutter said. “And also show some of the veterans that there is some … competition. A little competition is healthy for a club.”
After watching from the press box on Friday in Columbus, Phillips got the call for Saturday. A huge reward for the Calgary Wranglers stud, who left the AHL as its leading scorer this week and joined some of those from the NHL in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
For Lucic, who’s still seeking his first goal, it’s the culmination of a wildly disappointing season so far. The breaking point for Sutter seemed to be a lack of grit and determination in the 3-1 loss in Columbus. The ice time had already been dwindling but the big man played just over five minutes on Friday. Sutter’s review post-game suggested his players were not playing to their identities.
“These guys have roles and they all play different types of games, so they have to maximize it,” Sutter said in Columbus. “They obviously didn’t prepare for that.
“Big guys thought they were wheelers and dealers. Guys who are wheelers and dealers wouldn’t touch anyone. So, that’s the way she goes.”
With back-to-back five-minute games, Lucic seemed like an inevitable scratch. Sutter was asked why, but his answer suggested he’d already spoken to that point with the competition quote.
“Because we put the little guy in and took the big guy out,” he said, using his arms to illustrate. “Can only dress 12.”
But there are more options for those spots now.