If you’re scrambling for a last-minute costume idea, this is the scariest thing going for the Calgary Flames and their frustrated fan-base — an opposing goaltender.
The Flames’ offensive stats are frightful. Terrifying, even.
During a string of five consecutive losses, they are averaging just 1.2 snipes per night. They’ve gone the past 178 minutes without scoring at five-on-five, a stretch of nearly three full games without any tricks or treats at even-strength. Their go-to guys have too often looked like ghosts of their usual selves.
“No, it doesn’t concern me,” Flames captain Mikael Backlund insisted after Sunday’s Heritage Classic — a 5-2 loss to the arch-rival Edmonton Oilers in front of 55,411 bundled-up fans at Commonwealth Stadium. “It’s something that we have to work on, obviously. It’s a tough start. But I know we’re capable of scoring more and I know we have a lot of good players.
“I know it’s going to come.”
The Flames are idle until Wednesday’s home date with the Dallas Stars, so they’ve already wrapped their October work with a miserable 2-6-1 record. This franchise hardly has been known for its scorching starts, but that marks their worst opening month in nearly three decades. It certainly could come back to haunt them. (In 1995, they hit Halloween at 1-7-3 and eventually managed to claw their way back into the playoff picture. So there’s that.)
The defence isn’t exactly air-tight and while turnovers remain a major problem, the lack of offensive pop is perhaps the most pressing concern for these Flames as they flip the calendar to November.
In Sunday’s outdoor game in Edmonton, they potted a pair of power-play markers — a dandy deflection by Nazem Kadri for his first of the campaign and then a rebound deposited by A.J. Greer for his first in Calgary’s colours — but were credited with a grand total of three high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five. Three!
Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner must have been shivering in the home crease. Hopefully, he didn’t wake up with the sniffles.
As head coach Ryan Huska summed up: “We have to find a way to be a little bit more dynamic offensively in order to generate some five-on-five chances.”
“Once you get pucks in behind a defence, whatever team it is in the league, any sort of pressure, you’re going to get your opportunities,” said Huska, whose team ranks 30th in the NHL in goals-per-game (2.11) and 31st in the overall standings. “I think once it starts to go, it’s going to come a little bit more freely. We have had some games where we’ve had some great chances and goaltenders have made saves on us.
“We’re in one of those ruts right now. But it’ll change.”
Jonathan Huberdeau, the Flames’ highest-paid forward, needs to help spur that change. He has collected only one point — a secondary assist — during this five-game funk.
Same goes for Kadri, who is next on the team payroll charts. He finally ended his goal-scoring drought and admitted afterward: “To see it hit the back of the net, it’s definitely a good sign for me.”
But he also has the same number of helpers as Jacob Markstrom, who definitely has been doing his part between the pipes.
“I thought they were quiet tonight,” Huska said when asked Sunday about the trio of Huberdeau, Kadri and rookie right-winger Matt Coronato. “That’s the way I can say it — I thought they were quiet.”
While so much of the focus has been on Nos. 10 and 91, top centre Elias Lindholm has also gone silent of late. Lindholm seems to be missing Tyler Toffoli, who oh-by-the-way was hailed the NHL’s first star of the week after racking up six goals in his past four outings with the New Jersey Devils. Yeah, Toffoli outscored his former pals — all of them combined — this past week.
Huska is desperate to find some chemistry among his forwards, working the line blender like he’s hawking the Vitamix on a TV shopping network.
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Many are wondering if Connor Zary could provide a spark. The 22-year-old forward, Calgary’s first-round pick in 2020, has started the season on a six-game point-streak in the AHL.
“We have to find ways to be able to do it,” Kadri stressed after the Heritage Classic. “You have to just stay with the process, even though it’s frustrating right now. Everybody seems frustrated, but that’s just what it is. Tomorrow is a new day. You have to turn the page and try to win the next one.”
The next one comes against the Stars, who rank as one of the NHL’s most-stingy defensive squads.
Another scary thought.
ICE CHIPS: With Rasmus Andersson eligible to return after serving his four-game suspension, the Flames reassigned rookie defenceman Ilya Solovyov to the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers.
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to email@example.com