The Montreal Canadiens powerplay gave them the edge on the night. And the edge in penalty calls was certainly in their favour. But the Calgary Flames have to look within to figure out a way to get more production from their top players after their stars were overshadowed by the opponents’ for a second straight game.
The 4-2 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Thursday followed up a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks back in Calgary. It was the first time the Flames have lost two in a row in regulation this season. And things aren’t getting any easier as they head straight to Toronto to face Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs Friday night.
When things are tough, teams tend to rely on their stars. The Sharks fed off a strong push from Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl to snatch a victory in the third period.
The Canadiens were fueled by Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and Mike Hoffman, with a little Brendan Gallagher mixed in for good measure.
Line changes worked for a couple of Calgary Flames combinations
Johnny Gaudreau has no points in four of his last five games. Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm blanked in the past two.
The trio exploded for three goals and nine points in a 6-0 pounding of the New York Rangers but have been silent ever since.
“In the end (their top guys) played a lot and they were probably better than our top guys tonight,” head coach Darryl Sutter said after the Sharks game.
He could make the same statement after this one.
Sutter mixed up every line combination except the top line in Thursday’s morning skate, and the tinkering paid dividends early.
Mikael Backlund, playing with Trevor Lewis and Dillon Dube, opened the scoring just a couple of minutes into the contest. The redirection of Lewis’s shot was Backlund’s third of the year and snapped a four-game point drought.
Andrew Mangiapane scored with a slick backhand into the top shelf after collecting an off-target Sean Monahan pass with his skate. It was his team-leading ninth goal of the year and league best eighth road goal.
But goals from Ben Chiarot and Gallagher brought the Habs back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in the first and second period.
Suzuki gets the best of Jacob Markstrom in third period
Just over the midway mark of the final frame, Suzuki made a game-changing play on Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The crafty Canadiens centre banked the puck off the backside of Markstrom’s leg from behind the goal-line.
Jake Evans sealed it with an empty netter.
Markstrom wasn’t happy with his performance on the night.
“Three goals. Not good enough. I think that’s an easy way to assess it,” he told reporters in Montreal.
“In the third, we need to come up with a couple of saves to keep the tide and give the guys a chance to win. I’m disappointed.”
Markstrom will get a rest Friday night. Backup goalie Dan Vladar will start against the Leafs.
More offence and more discipline are key for Flames
“What are we, 12 games in?” Sutter said after the loss. “We need a little more offence.”
Lewis mentioned the lack of discipline in his post-game interview with Sportsnet 960.
“We took too many penalties there. We didn’t get enough at the net there in the end,” said the winger, who sees parallels in the losses.
“Both games are tied going into the third. I think we just have to take the next step and find ways to come out and win them,” he said. “Luckly, we get another chance tomorrow to try to pick up the win there.”
It won’t be easy in Toronto. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and potentially the injured John Tavares are next up in the star matchups.
Expect the Flames’ top players to respond.