Flames falter defensively, lose 6-3 to Avalanche
Hudler’s brilliant three-point night goes to waste as Calgary falls apart late
They called it a second training camp, of sorts — a rare break in the madness of a season shortened by the equally mad National Hockey League lockout.
Four days between games — and three days of practice — gave the Calgary Flames a welcome opportunity for further study in the Bob Hartley School of Hockey.
Offensively, the results were on display Thursday night as the Flames fell 6-3 the Colorado Avalanche in a crucial Northwest Division matchup for two teams already in desperate need of whatever points they can muster.
Defensively, well, call it a work in progress for the 2013 edition of the Calgary Flames.
And that’s being charitable to a 1-3-1 outfit residing all alone in the Western Conference basement.
“Definitely a lost opportunity for us,” sighed centre Matt Stajan. “That’s unacceptable on our behalf. That’s a chance where we can jump on a team that’s been struggling, a team that’s played a lot of hockey.
“We come in fresh, on home ice, we’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Instead of taking advantage, the Flames surrendered three goals in a span of 1:52 with the game on the line late in the third period.
Not exactly a way to inspire confidence.
“No excuses here,” Stajan said. “We’ve got to take a look in the mirror tonight, all of us, and make sure we learn to bear down in these games, because these are the points that matter at the end of the year.”
Indeed. The Flames squandered two points on a night where Jiri Hudler introduced himself in grand fashion to his new constituents at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
In a city starved for offensive fireworks, Hudler collected his first two goals as a Flame and added an assist on a line with Stajan and Roman Cervenka.
“It’s nice, but it means nothing after a game 6-3,” a downtrodden Hudler said in the quiet of the Calgary locker-room. “We don’t have points. We need it. It’s a division rival.”
Early in the week, Hartley singled out Hudler and Cervenka as the most likely to benefit from extra tutelage during a long practice week. After all, Hudler missed all but one day of training camp to rush home for his dad’s funeral. Cervenka sat out all of camp – and the first three games – waiting for medical clearance in the aftermath of a blood clot.
With some extra time to learn the system, Hudler, Cervenka – and Stajan — treated the Saddledome crowd to a brilliant display of talent and chemistry.
Hudler collected his first goal as a Flame 7:23 into the proceedings by snapping the puck over the blocker of Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
More impressive than the goal itself: the play by Hudler to somehow keep himself onside at the blueline in cutting off a clearing attempt before dishing off to Stajan and keenly batting in the rebound.
In only his second NHL game, Cervenka invoked a gasp from crowd with a spinarama on defenceman Greg Zanon.
Once again, pure skill.
“Both of them are probably still trying to find their legs a bit, but they can both move the puck,” defenceman Jay Bouwmeester said of the Czechs. “They’re both smart players.”
Smart is not the way anyone would describe the play that led to Colorado’s first goal — a costly giveaway by Calgary defenceman Chris Butler (yes, the Butler did it.) John Mitchell, the benefactor, roofed the puck over Miikka Kiprusoff to tie it 1-1.
Just 1:49 into second period, Hudler cashed in again, this time on a tic-tac-toe passing play with Cervenka and Stajan.
With the Avs leading 3-2 on goals by P.A. Parenteau and Mitchell, Hudler once again took control. This time, he found Alex Tanguay in front of the net to even things up at 3-3 with just 18 seconds left in the middle frame.
In the third period, Mikael Backlund had three (!) glorious opportunities to give the Flames the lead but failed to convert.
With 2:48 left on the clock, Mark Giordano hauled down Matt Duchene to give the Avs the man advantage Just eight seconds later, Paul Stastny rammed the puck through Kiprusoff to give the Avs a 4-3 lead.
Stastny added an even-strength marker and Parenteau scored into an empty net to ice the win.
Next up for Calgary: one of the best teams in the league, the 6-0-1 Chicago Blackhawks, drops into town on Saturday night before the Flames embark on a three-game road trip.
“These home games are important,” Stajan said. “We’ve let three slide already early. We’ve got to get one Saturday. We know that.
“We’ve got to show that today was just a blip.”
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