Days after the Calgary Flames beat up on a team that looked tired coming off a game the previous evening, the St. Louis Blues returned the favour.
The sting of a 7-1 loss to the Flames on Monday night still fresh in the Blues players’ minds, they responded in the rematch by grinding the Flames into submission on Thursday.
The Blues steadily wore down the Flames on home ice, scoring just over six minutes into the contest when Brandon Saad raced up ice and ripped a perfectly placed wrist shot past goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
Mikael Backlund scored in his second straight game to tie things up, but the Blues scored the next three, adding to the lead with Brayden Schenn’s 10th of the year in the first period, Saad’s second of the game midway through the second period, and Jordan Kyrou’s 17th of the year a few minutes into the third.
That one was a dagger.
Ryan O’Reilly added one more for good measure with a minute left on the clock, getting the puck just past the goal-line on the powerplay before it was batted out by Markstrom – confirmed via video review – to secure the lopsided 5-1 win over the Flames.
Let’s break it down with some takeaways.
No question Markstrom was going to be the man
Let’s get this one out of the way. Many expected backup Dan Vladar would be the starter because the team played the previous night in Columbus, but the Calgary Flames starter Markstrom was tabbed to tend the twine long ago, according to head coach Darryl Sutter.
“He hasn’t had much work. We didn’t play for a month, and we have four days off coming up here,” said Sutter. “Pretty easy decision. The other guy (Vladar) hasn’t won in a month.
“Pretty easy. We’re trying to win hockey games.”
Vladar hasn’t played since Jan. 7 but will no doubt be relied on heavily down the stretch thanks to a packed schedule.
Were the Flames feeling too high coming in?
Players have frequently pitched the notion of maintaining an even keel whether they’re winning or losing. Matthew Tkachuk suggested they were probably guilty of leaning a little to the high after a couple of successful (almost easy) games against the Blues and Blue Jackets.
“I think the problem with us is we get too high and too low and we have to find that consistency,” said Tkachuk after Thursday’s contest.
He noted they have gotten better at it but should look at the Blues organization and how they have handled winning, and how they responded to Monday’s game as an example of what the Flames need to do.
“It was a different team and a better team tonight. It wasn’t even close,” Tkachuk said. “I think it’s just a matter of a team that got embarrassed and didn’t like they way they played in Calgary. Our whole team got outplayed tonight.”
Outmatched in every way
The Blues that showed up at home looked every bit the heavy, systematic, tight-checking team that won the Stanley Cup a few years back. They took advantage of the last change and the ability to match up their lines.
Much of the damage was done against Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson and the Calgary Flames’ bottom six forwards.
One clip of Zadorov firmly planted in the middle of nowhere as the game blew past him sort of summed it all up.
— RaYrAy (@flamesfever) January 28, 2022
“That’s a veteran, good hockey team. They had a one-off in Calgary. You make mistakes, you’re going to get put in a cell,” Sutter said. “They moved their lines around and they have four centremen that took charge of the game.”
Backlund a big silver lining
Mikael Backlund scored for a second straight night and was easily the Calgary Flames’ best player.
He fired a game-high seven shots on goal. That didn’t include him fanning on a breakaway as he almost scored twice shorthanded. Backlund logged nearly 18 minutes playing all situations. The 32-year-old said after Wednesday’s game he felt his play was turning a corner after snapping an 18-game goal drought.
His coach agreed earlier in the day, but also said they need Backlund to be at his best.
“Well, he has to be better,” Sutter said after the team’s optional morning skate. “We can’t have guys playing 15-18 minutes (per game) with three or four goals, especially at that position.
“I’m not going to beat around about it. I mean, he’s a good player and he has to produce.”
The Flames return home to play the Canucks for Hockey Day in Canada before heading back out on the road.