If you’re not winning, you need to be learning. After a second straight battering in the balmy state of Florida, the Calgary Flames don’t have much time to study for their next test.
They hit the ice in Carolina Friday night, less than 24 hours after getting schooled by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-1 loss.
“Sometimes you learn lessons the hard way in this league,” said Calgary Flames winger Blake Coleman. “And tonight, we learned a lot of them.”
They didn’t quite catch on quickly enough after dropping a 6-2 decision to the Panthers on the other side of the state on Tuesday.
Goaltender Dan Vladar helped the Flames hang in with the champs for about 40 minutes. He stopped all but Corey Perry’s second-period shot among the 27 directed at him through two frames. But the Bolts poured it on early in the third, stretching the lead to 4-0 before Dillon Dube finally got the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard. Nikita Kucherov had two assists in his return and the Bolts looked tough to beat with goals coming in quick bursts from Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn after Brayden Point started the third-period onslaught.
If there was a silver lining to it all, it was that the Flames never seemed to quit. They were emotionally invested until the bitter end, mucking it up in the battles even though they won far too few of them.
“Just wasn’t good enough all around,” Coleman said. “The last two games, we’ve gotten looks at teams that are going to be there when it comes to the end of the season and when it matters most, and now we know what level we have to get our game to.”
Do the Calgary Flames need to make changes to be true competitor?
The question now is how they get there
Do they really have the personnel?
With the NHL trade deadline around the corner, the Calgary Flames management group is going to have to decide whether they believe this team can get there. Johnny Gaudreau is an impending unrestricted free agent. Matthew Tkachuk will be due a $9-million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. And fellow RFAs Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington are going to get raises as well.
With the core they have now, nothing is guaranteed beyond this season.
And with the Vegas Golden Knights getting closer to having their prized trade asset Jack Eichel joining them down the stretch, Calgary Flames fans are going to soon see what they missed out on.
Against the Panthers, the Flames slightly out-chanced their opponent in high-danger opportunities. Not the case against the Lightning. The Bolts had 12 to the Flames’ five, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
They didn’t get better. They got worse.
Or maybe they just played an even better team.
“There’s nothing wrong with how we played,” said Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.
“We just played a better team, to be quite honest.”
Anyone who watched would have to agree. So how to they get ready to face a third-straight elite competitor in the Eastern Conference on Friday night in Carolina?
“We probably use frustration to get ready for tomorrow but I don’t know if you can compare these last two (teams) to Carolina at all,” said Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk. “We have to be ready for a great challenge, but I think that’s what we need right now. A really strong test to see where we’re at.”