Flames Blanked by Hellebuyck and the Laine-less Jets
As the 2016-17 National Hockey League season rolls past the halfway mark, things are not meant to get easier.
That is, if the Calgary Flames want to stay in the playoff mix.
Playing the 10th of an 11-game stretch against Western Conference opponents, they made too many mistakes, committed too many turnovers and made too many bad passes in a 2-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
Yes, the Flames are still seventh in the Western Conference with a 22-19-2 record after Monday’s game at MTS Centre. But this is the time they need to be handing it to teams.
And, it should be mentioned, the Jets were hardly a picture of perfection on this night.
“It’s so tight now,” acknowledged Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. “Between the first and second periods, I said, ‘These are the types of games we need to be in.’ These are the games we need to manufacture points, whether it be in a shoot-out or overtime or two points.
“You need to manufacture points at this time of the year. This is something we need to learn how to do.”
Gulutzan called the last game between the Flames and Jets “misleading.”
After all, it had been a fairly close one until the Flames exploded for four straight second-period goals en route to a 6-2 win back on Dec. 10, in Calgary.
This game, however, was powered by subtle miscues by the Flames.
Down 1-0 early in the first period, Winnipeg’s second goal of the game followed an offensive zone face-off loss by Mikael Backlund. That itself wasn’t costly but it allowed the Jets to cruise the puck out of their end and down to Calgary’s. With the puck on T.J. Brodie’s stick, he attempted to pass across to his defensive partner Dennis Wideman but, instead, it was intercepted by Blake Wheeler and he buried the breakaway chance.
“It’s frustrating,” Brodie said. “That’s definitely not what I planned on happening. But, at the end of the day, it’s over with and the more you think about and the more it effects you.
“You have to just move on.”
They gained some momentum from a short-handed opportunity in the third period between Michael Frolik and Matt Stajan while Backlund was off for unsportsmanlike. Calgary also had a power-play opportunity with 5:18 remaining (Calgarian Josh Morrissey was caught for holding on Johnny Gaudreau) and received some grit from Sam Bennett.
But, much like the opening 40 minutes of action, there were too many mistakes.
“The big thing was turnovers,” Brodie said. “They’re a team that back-checks hard and feeds off the rush. When you turn the puck over, you end up playing a lot of defence.”
The Flames did not get off to the start they wanted.
They fell behind 1-0 at the 10:21 mark of the first period after a fantastic play by Dustin Byfuglien and a bad move by Mark Giordano.
Heading into the offensive zone, Byfuglien found an extra gear and got a step on the Flames captain who attempted to poke check the big man. But it was too late and he went stick-side on Chad Johnson.
“I don’t know what it was,” Johnson said. “The puck was bouncing a lot. We had a hard time making crisp plays and getting the puck out of our zone occasionally. They came really hard at us, I think that was their game plan.
“They came hard and just seemed like they had a little more to push out there. We just made some mistakes and they capitalized. I don’t think it was our sharpest game.”
At that point, the visitors had come up empty on an early power-play with Jacob Trouba in the penalty box for high sticking on Matthew Tkachuk.
Heading into Monday’s game, the Jets had gone a perfect eight-for-eight on their penalty kill in the last two games and they continued the roll. Shawn Matthias and Andrew Copp nearly had a short-handed chance but Dougie Hamilton was able to get a stick on the puck.
On their next power-play, the Flames gave up another short-handed chance – a two-on-one with Brodie – but they got lucky when Blake Wheeler missed the net.
The Flames actually out-shot the Jets 9-6 after the first period which was, frankly, flattering.
They received some much needed physical play from Garnet Hathaway in the second period, when he hit Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers and then took some subsequent abuse from Chris Thorburn and Ben Chiarot, who delivered a hit and cross check, respectively.
But other than that, the middle frame was all Jets and they out-shot the Flames 12-6.
Oh, did we mention this was Winnipeg’s first game without scoring machine Patrik Laine, one of the NHL’s brightest stars? Laine had suffered a concussion in the Jets’ 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves as Winnipeg improved to 20-20-3.
“Vancouver and Winnipeg are right there with us,” said Johnson who made 25 saves. “They’re obviously tougher teams, teams right around you are a little different than the Arizonas, the Colorados. I think we’re getting tested.
“We have to respond to these tougher teams and the teams that are pushing a little more.”
1. Jets D Dustin Byfuglien — With a goal, a pile of shots on net and a pile of bone-crunching hits, the big man did everything that makes him successful in this league.
2. Jets RW Blake Wheeler — Capitalized on Calgary’s miscue early in the third period and it led to their second goal of the night.
3. Jets LW Nikolaj Ehlers — Everything this guy touches turns to gold. Doesn’t score, but stays red hot with an assist on Byfuglien’s marker.
NOTES: With his first-period assist on D Dustin Byfuglien’s goal, Jets LW Nikolaj Ehlers extended his point streak to five games … The Flames wore their home red jerseys as the Jets were wearing their Heritage Classic jerseys in Monday’s game … The Jets were playing their first game without 18-year-old star Patrik Laine, who suffered a concussion during Winnipeg’s 4-3 loss at Buffalo on Saturday … The Flames are approaching the end of a run of 11 straight games against Western Conference opponents, which ends Wednesday against San Jose. In the first nine games, they were 6-3-0 and out-scored their rivals 29-21 … Calgary recalled D Brett Kulak from the Stockton Heat on Monday and sent Tyler Wotherspoon back to their American Hockey League affiliate … LW Matthew Tkachuk snapped a nine-game point streak, the longest run by a Flames rookie since Joe Nieuwendyk’s 14-game tear in 1987-88.