PREVIEW: Calgary Flames head to Edmonton looking for faster start

By Field Level Media
Feb 19, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames head coach Geoff Ward on his bench against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The first-goal bugaboo is costing the Calgary Flames, and that will be a focus when they hit the ice for a road clash against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.

A 2-1 loss to their provincial rivals Friday night was the 11th time in 17 games the Flames surrendered the first goal. As much as they stayed in the game until the end, the lesson was obvious. Therefore, emotions were mixed about having taken any steps forward during their third loss in four outings.

“Somehow we still have to find a way to score the first goal, play with a lead and take it from there. We’re chasing the game,” said Calgary defenseman Rasmus Andersson, who scored his team’s lone goal in the loss. “You’re not going to win a whole lot of games when you’re chasing from behind all the time.”

The Flames have a 4-7-0 mark when allowing the first goal, and in Friday’s clash, the Oilers gave a perfect example of how to choke the life out of a team in the third period. The Flames managed only five third-period shots on goal, too few for a team that’s being questioned about its determination.

“We got more to give,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. “It was a step in the right direction, but we can still be better. We’ve got to find a way to generate more in terms of pushing ourselves forward. At points there were some (positives), but at other points we need to have more desperation.”

Read More: RECAP: Oilers have just enough to top Flames

The need to find emotion is a worrisome development considering the Flames are on the outside of a playoff spot and were facing their biggest rivals, who are on a roll. Thanks to the Friday win, the Oilers have won eight of their past 10 games.

That said, the Oilers showed a new tweak in their game, the ability to win a low-scoring, defense-first affair, even without any points from the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“From a coaching standpoint, the team’s improving,” Edmonton coach Dave Tippett said. “We looked comfortable in a 2-1 game, which is good.”

Related: NHL power rankings – Avs steady at No. 1 amid huge shakeup

The Oilers are notorious for playing high-scoring games, not a 2-1 clash in which they hold the opposition to 21 shots on goal.

“We’ll definitely take the points any way we can right now,” Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “It probably wasn’t our prettiest win but sometimes it’s gonna go down like that.

“Right now, everybody on the same page,” Nugent-Hopkins added. “We know what we’re doing, the system is there and the structure is there. Everybody has faith in each other and if something breaks down, we have each other covered.”

That said, the Oilers are well aware their rivals will look for a stronger, more assertive game on Saturday night.

“We know they’re going to have a push, especially back-to-back. It’s been that way all season,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We need to understand that coming back home, establish our game in the first period … control the pace because they’ll be coming hard.”

It remains to be seen whether the Flames will be with top-line center Sean Monahan for Saturday’s game — he missed Friday’s affair due to injury — but that’s not the only story to follow.

Calgary’s Sam Bennett was guilty of a poor backchecking effort on Edmonton’s second goal Friday and was benched for all of the third period.

Ward said the benching was an issue he would keep internal. When asked whether it was a case of an ongoing problem or just this game, he replied: “On other nights, he’s been good, so I don’t think there’s a pattern there.”

Related: NHL games today – Complete TV schedule

–Field Level Media