Three of the league’s best lined up in a row. Three straight losses for the Calgary Flames.
But if you’re looking for a silver lining – and considering all that’s happened the last month or so in Flames Land, you probably are – consider this.
A power play goal might have been the difference in any of them. With back to back power plays in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Flames had ample opportunity to make a difference in the outcome.
Here are three reasons to have hope in spite of three big losses in a row.
The power play sucked
Yes, the title of this reason is misleading. The power play sucked. It sucked against the Hurricanes and it sucked the entire trip. Which is a bit surprising considering the Calgary Flames were ranked among the league’s top 10 before the road trip.
The Flames went 0-for-4 with the man advantage on Friday, 0-for-3 in Tampa Bay against the Lightning on Thursday, and 0-for-2 against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. On the flip side, the Flames scored both a power play goal and one shorthanded to change the game in Chicago en route to a 5-2 win on Sunday.
“You score on one of them, it makes a big difference,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said of the back-to-back power play chances his team had late in the second period. Matthew Tkachuk had cut the lead in half to 4-2 shortly before that to snap the Hurricanes unanswered goal streak at four.
Sutter mixed up his power play lineup to try and get more shots against an aggressive Canes penalty kill but the swaps didn’t make a difference.
The impressive first-period start
Going back to the game against the Kraken in Seattle, the Flames hadn’t scored first on the entire road trip. In fact, they were pretty listless in all of their starts.
After two disappointing losses in games they considered benchmark contests, the Flames focused on coming out strong in the finale.
Mission accomplished. Well, sort of.
Blake Coleman scored the game’s first goal and the Calgary Flames peppered Frederik Andersen with 21 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
But they still couldn’t win the period when Jesper Fast evened things up for the Hurricanes late in the frame.
“Along this trip, we didn’t really have good first periods. It was an area of focus and we did it. We didn’t keep momentum and that’s on us,” said defenceman Erik Gudbranson, who later hit Johnny Gaudreau with a stretch pass for a breakaway goal to make it 4-3 midway through the third period.
Gaudreau lamented the fact they didn’t capitalize more in the first period.
“We should have found a way to bury a couple more in the first,” he said. “I think it gave them a little momentum the way their goalie played.”
The players are very disappointed – but their coach is not
“I’m disappointed we lost,” said Sutter, suggesting he was happy with the team’s overall effort. “I’m not disappointed in that at all. I think we fought back and made it 4-3.
“When you go on long trips you’re trying to get more points than games played. Tonight (a win) would have got us six in five, so we fell short. We’re basically two points behind on this trip.”
That doesn’t mean Sutter doesn’t have some apprehension over the lapses in these games. The Panthers scored five unanswered goals to turn a 2-1 Flames lead into a 6-2 loss. In Tampa, the Lightning scored the game’s first four. The Canes answered Coleman’s opener with four straight to take control of the game.
Sutter was most worried about the ones that came in quick succession.
“We’ve seen it … four times, where teams have scored goals on us on consecutive shots. Which is a concern. You’re letting one goal affect the next one,” Sutter said. “As a young player, you can’t let that come into your game.”
As far as the players … the Gudbranson, Gaudreau Zoom availability was a touch short of depressing.
“Can’t happen. We’re right in games. The game just gets away from us. It’s just not good enough,” said Gaudreau.
Gudbranson wasn’t buying the silver lining angles.
“We had a little momentum. We were right there. A lot of games we were right there, and we let the game get away from us,” said the defenceman. “We almost got there, but almost doesn’t win you hockey games. We’re still going home empty handed. That’s the tough part.