Johnson: Flames a broken record
Same old story as team heads towards dubious marks
They find themselves speeding headlong towards the border of some pretty dubious territory.
“You can preach hard work, you can preach commitment, you can ask for loyalty, you can ask for anything … but once in a while candies have to come,” agreed Calgary Flames’ coach Bob Hartley, his sweet-tooth aching for an impacted sugar overload. “Players get affected. We’re dealing with human beings.
“It’s nice to believe in something, to keep repeating and to keep applying yourself but once you get a result, that’s where you feel good. Anyone, in any business.”
Thursday night had been yet another maddening exercise in what-might-have-been, a distressingly familiar plot line running through the narrative: Admirable work ethic and long stretches of dominating a superior team (in this case the L.A. Kings) undone by a lack of payoff polish.
All the smooth finish of a hunk of pink asbestos insulation.
Nothing unexpected, to be honest.
But oh-so painful nonetheless.
Thursday’s 2-0 slapdown by the Kings — who, it must be said, clinically shut the game down after scoring to go up a deuce early in the third period — marked the eighth time the Flames have come away from an evening’s endeavours as empty as a politician’s campaign promises.
Ominously, the Calgary record for most times shut out in a season stands at 10, set back during 2002-2003, the campaign Darryl Sutter assumed the coaching reins from Greg Gilbert.
The current edition has 23 games remaining to chase it. In other words, an eternity.
Sorely lacking that intrinsic talent that can turn games with a single chance, these Flames would nevertheless need to dry up completely to eclipse the franchise record for fewest goals scored (186), needing only 36 in the 23 games to steer clear of that particular mark of infamy. There is however, the low-water mark for points in the standings, the 67 of 1996-97, within their sights. With 51 currently bankrolled, can’t you in all honesty picture — as the games continue to increase in importance for the vast majority of their opponents wrangling for playoff spots or positioning — them possibly going, say, 8-15 the rest of the way? Hmm. Yes. Thought so.
So for all Hartley’s brave, baffling talk on still being there, somewhere, on the outside (waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay outside) of the playoff frame, there’s far more chance of this group winding up in the official franchise guide and record book for the wrong reasons, than making a late push at the Top 8.
The bitter irony in all this is that for a team in the throes of full rebuild, the effort has been exemplary the most nights, the buy-in surprisingly, stubbornly unflinching, the attitude remarkably positive, they have put together spurts of solid play (6-3-1 heading into the Olympic break, for instance) and the progression of the kids — Mikael Backlund, T.J. Brodie, Sean Monahan — very much on the right track.
But as Bob Hartley said, when you can’t score consistently …
“We had traffic in front of (Jonathan) Quick, tips, quality chances and … he was just feeling it,” said forward Joe Colborne, reliving the nightmarish images of opportunities squandered. “It’s tough. You’ve got to try to stay positive. You’re doing a lot of the right things, but not getting them. That’s one of the things about the NHL, especially — there are nights when goalies decide to take over a game. And they can. And he did.
“We had three or four lines going, generating. That’s the frustrating part of being in a league this good. Most games come down to one or two chances either way, and if you don’t bury yours, you’ll wind up regretting it.”
A cast of 13, including the convalescing Curtis Glencross and goaltenders Joni Ortio and Reto Berra, took part in an 11 a.m. optional skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome before the short flight up north.
For those in frantic search of good news, Saturday the Flames will try to rebound against the only team to be shut out as often as them this campaign, the habitually-disappointing Edmonton Oilers. The Big Oil Drop, too, is smarting from a home whitewashing in its last start, 3-0 by the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s just a matter of keep going,” said Hartley. “The guys were good this morning. We had a good meeting. We, as a coaching staff, know what we’re dealing with. We’re just trying to push the right buttons.”
On Saturday, he’ll be demanding the same kind of intensity he saw Thursday, the same degree of effort and aggressiveness.
Some candy thrown in would be nice, for a change.
“(Thursday) night, and I’ve said this a few times this year, I felt sorry for our guys,” the boss continued. “We hit a few posts, Quick came up with some saves at the right time.
“We did lots of good things. I thought that our net presence was real good. It’s something we’ve been working on, challenging the players on. I thought we did a good job at this. We skated well. In the first period we didn’t look like a team that was off for a long time.
“Once again, I give our players credit. They worked hard. They were committed.”
A helpless shrug.
“Here’s a game, another game, we could’ve won but the red light didn’t go on.”
It so rarely does around here.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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