Flames remain winless after falling 3-2 to Canucks in shootout
Critical goal, decisive play eludes Calgary, now 0-2-0-1 on the season
VANCOUVER — Much — too much? — has been made of the National Hockey League's condensed schedule.
How January's stumblers would pay dearly.
How laggards would suddenly become irrelevant.
Calgary Flames skipper Bob Hartley, grinning after Wednesday's morning skate, had a different take on the early-season stakes.
It all depends.
"If you have a great start," Hartley was saying, "the coach comes in the locker-room and says, 'See! I told you, boys!' If you don't get the great start, well, you have to go to another page in your book.
Unfortunately for the new coach, he must delve another page deeper into his book.
Winless still at 0-2-1, his Flames have shown that they have trouble authoring the critical goal, the decisive play, the game-changing moment.
The latest shortfall — being toppled 3-2 in a shootout in National Hockey League action Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
"We had a slow start, but overcame it — played really hard, played really well," said Lee Stempniak. "You like to get a better fate but (Cory) Schneider made some big saves in the shootout and we just couldn't get another one past him for the win."
Snapping the deadlock — all four of the goals had been scored in the second period — took extra time, then the shootout. Converting on the breakaways were Vancouver's Alex Burrows and Calgary's Alex Tanguay, which set up the sudden-death round.
Zack Kassian, with a wonderful deke, got to be the hero.
"I think both sides were really desperate for a win," said Stempniak. "We played that way and we had our chances. We had a lot of chances in front of their net and we worked for them.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get the result."
The Flames got goals from Mikael Backlund and Tanguay.
Kassian and Mason Raymond replied for the Canucks.
The teams had opened the night still somewhat stuck in pre-season mode.
Both sides produced eight lines that didn't match their combinations from their previous games. Still looking for that something.
"It's about finding out more about my players," Hartley explained before the game. "I've met them many times, I've talked to them over the phone, I've watched many game tapes, but right now we are in game situations and I'm just trying to find the best fit for all of them."
"It's a work in progress, but I like the players' attitude. We're communicating very well. They're sharp and they want to do well."
Of the new looks, it had been the hosts who looked sharper earlier.
On the night's opening shift, Vancouver newcomer Jason Garrison put a meaningful shot on Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, en route to cresting 35,000 minutes-played and leapfrogging Evgeni Nabokov into 38th place on the NHL's all-time workhorse charts.
Kiprusoff, again, needed to be good on Kevin Bieksa's point blast, using his blocker to knock aside the whistling puck.
Calgary's power-players, operating at 50 per cent coming after two games, went to work mid-period when rookie Jordan Schroeder, playing in his first NHL game, tugged down Sven Baertschi.
No goal, but the travellers came close — Jay Bouwmeester's wrister from the left point ticked a defender and beaned the post behind goalie Cory Schneider.
By the 16-minute mark, the shots were 10-2 in favour of Vancouver.
But, with 45 seconds to go, Jarome Iginla, back on a line with Tanguay, won a draw in enemy territory. From the blue line, Bouwmeester unfurled a tricky wrister. With Schneider down and out, Iginla collected the puck and, deking to his backhand, appeared ready to deposit the night's first goal.
But the Canucks goalie booted aside the Flames captain's attempt. For good measure, he also stymied a quickly-on-the-scene Tanguay.
Scorelessness did not last.
And it had been the Canucks pressing.
By the time Kassian scored on a great individual play — faking a shot, then nearly scoring on a wraparound; firing a shot (blocked by Mark Giordano), then burying the loose puck — the Canucks were outshooting the Flames 13-1 in the second period.
With Derek Smith off for high-sticking, the hosts boosted their lead. Raymond whizzed a high wrister past Kiprusoff to make it 2-0 at 8:20.
But, as the Flames have already shown this season, they're wildly unpredictable.
So no one should be surprised that they roared back to tie it.
First, Tanguay, whirring down the right wing and looking like he was going to pass (which he always does), snapped a low shot off the far-side post and in at 11:00.
Then the Canucks refused to stop taking minors — Garrison for slashing at 12:26, Bieksa for cross-checking at 13:23, Alex Edler for concealing the puck (really) at 14:43.
And just when it looked like the Flames would not take advantage, Iginla juked past a boot-stuck Alex Burrows at the blue line and wheeled a pass to Backlund, who buried his shot at 16:03.
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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