Johnson: ‘We played with fire and we burned ourselves’ — Hartley
Flames had plenty of chances against the Avalanche Thursday, but sloppy defensive play, lack of a killer instinct their undoing
All the killer instinct of a baby seal pup stranded on an ice floe. Sloppy. Disjointed. Slightly befuddled in their own zone. Coughing up more furballs than Garfield.
The adopted slogan — Every Game Matters — that pulsates from the pixels on the Scotiabank Saddledome JumboTron that leads the local gladiators out into battle on a nightly basis?
Well, at a precarious 1-2-1, with the swaggering Chicago Blackhawks due in for a late Saturday evening date, Thursday’s tilt against the dog-tired, injury-depleted Colorado Avalanche might actually have mattered more than most.
The Avs, after all, had flown in from Vancouver past midnight, still smarting from a 3-0 beat down at the hands of the Canucks.
Their goaltender, J.S. Giguere, was making his first start of the season.
Gabriel Landeskog, their best player, remains sidelined, dealing with head-issues (oh, an upper-upper body injury for those technical nitpickers).
The Calgary Flames themselves, meanwhile, were carrying the momentum of a confidence-boosting W over those precocious Oilers on Saturday. They were fresh, rested and (apparently) rarin’ to go after four days off to fine-tune.
This was an opportunity to at least make some hay off a ridiculously favourable opening portion of the abbreviated season — five of the first half-dozen starts on home ice.
The significance could not have been lost on any of them.
And yet the Flames come out flatter than Herman Munster’s head.
Hard to fathom. Let alone explain. As a subdued coach Bob Hartley attempted to do in his post-game media availability.
“We gave the game away,” said the new boss, perhaps only now absorbing the enormity of his assignment. “It’s as simple as this. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game offensively. Defensively, we turned the puck away so many times in key situations of the game. Like the goal at the end of the first period.
“We just gave them life.
“Here’s a team that played three games in four nights. Going for the killer instinct . . . we let them back in the game. Whenever you do this to any NHL team, you’re taking a big gamble. We got burned bad tonight.”
Instead of the overworked Avs wilting, it was the home side sagging late, outscored 3-zip in the third period.
Mercifully, in the analytical aftermath, the captain wasn’t about to blame too much time off for the abjectly-poor performance.
“If you’d drawn it up on paper, we’d like that matchup with them playing those game and us waiting,” acknowledged Jarome Iginla. “So there’s no excuse. We blew a game.
“Give them credit. They battled hard. But at the same time, we were bad.
“It’s not going to sit well with us. And it shouldn’t. We gotta get right back at it and start climbing because we’re going to start playing (games) every second day and we’ve got to finish this homestand off properly and build it in the right direction again.”
Heading into that fateful closing 20 minutes, only a brave bettor would’ve plunked down any sort of wager on the Avs. Because just when it seemed the Flames were in peril of losing the plot line entirely, watching a 2-1 lead pratfall into a 3-2 deficit, the magnificent Jiri Hudler out-Tanguay-ing the man himself, skimmed a lovely short pass to No. 40 for a one-timer that reduced Giguere to a spectator and tied the score.
Only 17.7 seconds remained on the clock.
But rather than charge out and press their advantage after the intermission it was the rested Flames, not the weary Avs, that wilted.
After the Calgary power play frittered away a chance with the game still tied and six minutes left, Paul Stastny slammed a wraparound past Miikka Kiprusoff during a Colorado PP at 17:20, then he scored an even-strength tally a minute and a half later before P-A Parenteau located an empty Flames’ net in the game’s final minute to really rub the bad little doggies’ noses in the doo.
“We weren’t nearly good enough,” said Iginla flatly. “We weren’t sharp. It was a sloppy game, but it was still there to be won.
“A lot of us weren’t very good tonight, myself right at the top of that. Jiri Hudler, Cervenka and Staje were going very well. They gave us a chance to be in that game, to win that game.
“They had a power play late, we had ours. They got it done. We didn’t.”
No, not nearly enough from the No. 1 line. Nor Michael Cammalleri. Mikael Backlund squandered a hat-trick of chances to propel his side ahead before Stastny did the business and was left wanting.
Maybe the whole sorry evening could be summed up with a second glance at Colorado’s first goal, in the final minute of the first: Flames’ D-man Chris Butler, just returned to the lineup, serves up the puck on a platter rather than take a hit from old pal Chuck Kobasew, allowing John Mitchell to snap his first of two on the evening past Kiprusoff.
So now the Flames are left no alternative but to the beat the 6-0-1 Hawks to not fall further off the pace and salvage something from this extended homestand.
Good luck with that.
“We’re capable of much better than this,” said Hartley. “They made us pay on every play that we turned the puck over. That was the difference in the game.
“I don’t think it was a lack of desire. It was about execution. We didn’t lose the game late in the third. We lost the game much before this.
“We played with fire and we burned ourselves.”
The is not enough Polysporin on drugstore shelves citywide to ease the pain this morning.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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