EDMONTON — If this was any other outdoor rink, somebody might have suggested they stop the game midway through the first period and throw sticks again, hoping to come up with more evenly matched teams.
For the Calgary Flames, in the early stages of what ended as a fifth straight loss, this hardly seemed fair.
As close as it may have seemed for some stretches of the second and third, Sunday’s Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium was essentially over before the sun had set, giving way to a glorious evening.
The Edmonton Oilers ultimately skated to a 5-2 victory, a slump-buster for one squad and what might feel more like rock-bottom for the other.
“We sat back a little, gave them a bit too much respect with the players they have, with Connor (McDavid) coming back and all that,” said Flames captain Mikael Backlund. “But when we started playing the way we can, at the end of the first period and the beginning of the second, I think we were a better team.”
The Flames keep telling us they’re a better team.
They better hurry up and show it.
On Sunday, in front of a sellout crowd of 55,411 fans, they’d already surrendered a goal before even registering a shot in the offensive zone. They wasted an 81-second stretch of five-on-three, only to allow another snipe shortly after both penalties had expired.
While there was no snow falling from the sky, the Calgarians must have been feeling like they were trying to dig their way out after an epic blizzard.
“I thought we were waiting for something to happen instead of going after it and attacking the game,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska, asked to explain the sluggish start. “We were sitting back. I thought one team was skating and one wasn’t in the first period.”
For the past few days, we’ve been hearing about of these slumping squads could use the Heritage Classic as a potential turning point.
Maybe, for the Oilers, it will be exactly that.
For the Flames, it must have felt like a long and miserable march from the ice surface back to their locker-room at Commonwealth Stadium.
It must have felt like a long and miserable flight back to Calgary, even though it’s just a short hop.
They must be wondering if this going to be a long and miserable winter. At 2-6-1 so far, they’re currently sitting 31st in the NHL’s overall standings.
With Nickelback on stage at the second intermission, many Flames fans were joking on social media that Burn It to the Ground might an appropriate tune to dedicate to the dues in the throwback whites.
“Today, we played better than we had in some other games,” Backlund said, spinning positive. “But, in the end, we have to dig deep here now and roll up our sleeves and really, really come out next game and find a way to win.”
The Flames arrived at Commonwealth Stadium without sleeves, going without shirts in a western-themed get-up that included boots, denim overalls and cowboys hats.
When they switched into their gear, there wasn’t a whole lot of giddy-up. If Jacob Markstrom wasn’t sharp in the early stages, it would have been a blowout.
The Calgarians potted their two goals on the power-play — a dandy deflection by Nazem Kadri and then a clean-up job by A.J. Greer, who buried the rebound after a determined individual effort by MacKenzie Weegar. Natural Stat-Trick credited them with a grand total four high-danger scoring chances at even-strength. If you’re not sure you remember that many, you’re not alone.
The Flames can’t seem to find any chemistry with their forward combos. When, or if, they do, we’ll find out if they have enough talent.
“For us, it’s about trying to rally together and finding a way out,” Kadri said. “This is not a work ethic thing. It’s more so just a bounce here or there and the game would change.
“It’s a game of momentum and when things aren’t going your way, you feel behind the 8-ball all the time. I think that’s where we’re at right now, but we’re certainly not going to quit.”
Backlund insisted after this latest loss that he still believes in this bunch, but what is the captain going to say?
In the NHL, you can’t just throw all the sticks back in the middle and start over. During Sunday’s opening period, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
“We know we have a good team,” Backlund declared. “We are going to turn this around and start winning games.”
ICE CHIPS: Brett Kulak, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, Vincent Desharnais and Evander Kane did the twine-tickling for the Oilers, who snapped a four-game losing skid of their own … Greer’s second-period strike was his first in Calgary’s colours. He was claimed off waivers earlier this month from the Boston Bruins … Next up for the Flames is Wednesday’s date with the Dallas Stars at the Saddledome (6:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet One/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). The good news is they’ll welcome back defenceman Rasmus Andersson, who has now served his four-game suspension … Forward Adam Ruzicka missed a second consecutive game due to a shoulder injury.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org