Forget the Caribbean or whatever warm-weather vacation these Calgary Flames players might have planned for their bye week.
This team needs group therapy.
There may not be a team in the league that struggles more with focus. Mental mistakes. Playing to the level of a weaker opponent. Over the first (nearly) 50 games of this season, they’ve allowed early goals, late-period goals, goals on back-to-back shifts, and backbreakers in overtime more often than not.
With the league’s lowest point producers rolling through town, the Flames had an opportunity to stretch their modest winning streak to three — which would have tied a season high. Instead, the Flames got caught in yet another trap game. After beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a matinee and then coming out on top of an emotional homecoming for Johnny Gaudreau with the Columbus Blue Jackets, they fell victim in a lopsided 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks … again.
The same Blackhawks who sat at the bottom of the NHL standings before puck drop.
A horrible start saw the Flames give up plenty of early chances. Taylor Raddysh didn't open the scoring until there were less than three minutes left in the first. But after Jonathan Huberdeau tied things up a minute later, the Flames seemed to have hope they could rebound quickly and take over the game in the second. Instead, they gave up three more, with Boris Katchouk, Jason Dickinson and Sam Lafferty all piling on.
Huberdeau looked like one of the only Flames who was invested. (As Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said, “Jonathan was jumpin’.”) The coach moved an impressive Jakob Pelletier up to his line to give him something to work with but even during an 18-shot third period, they couldn't beat Hawks goaltender Jaxson Stauber. Never heard of him? The Flames players probably felt the same way.
Players don’t like to admit they underestimated anyone, or took a team lightly in the NHL, but Huberdeau didn’t hesitate when asked.
“It sure looks like it,” he said. “We know it’s not the best team in the league, the bottom of the standings. We can’t disrespect that.
“That’s a lesson.”
It’s a lesson you’d think they learned in Chicago earlier this month, where they dropped an overtime decision to kick off a road trip they thought would be much easier than it was.
But these Flames don’t do things the easy way.
“Obviously it’s unacceptable. At home, we need these points right now,” Huberdeau said. “Too many odd-man rushes. They had so many chances. I feel bad for Marky.”
They should all feel bad for Jakob Markstrom.
The Calgary Flames goaltender played well enough to keep things close when the skaters in front of him failed to show up for 20 minutes. Then another 20 after that. But no one wants to hear Marky played pretty well after letting in four goals.
“We made some glaring errors on the back end that cost us goals against,” Sutter accurately summarized.
There were plenty of poor decisions. Bad pinches, aggressive missteps, coverage communication breakdowns. Nikita Zadorov and MacKenzie Weegar were out of sync. But even Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson looked like they rarely play together despite never being separated.
Part of that can be assigned to the fact Chris Tanev was absent. The team is now 1-5-3 without him this season. But the guys filling in with minutes and responsibility have to bet better than they were on Thursday.
“That’s part of a team,” said Sutter.
“You’ve got some defencemen that, even though they’re younger guys, they’ve got to take some leadership in it too in terms of direction and poise and that sort of thing.”
Maybe they'll rebound tomorrow night in Seattle. If they don't, they might want to consider spending their holiday money on that sport psychologist instead.