PREVIEW: Focused on playoff spot, Calgary Flames try to solve Ottawa Senators

Mar 22, 2021; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm (28) skates with the puck in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The climb for the Calgary Flames is becoming steeper and steeper, and it’s their own fault.

As the team prepares for Wednesday’s road clash with the Ottawa Senators, they sit outside a playoff spot with 23 games remaining in their season.

The distance between themselves and the Montreal Canadiens should not be insurmountable. However, look at how the inconsistent Flames have foundered, especially against the last-place Senators.

Thanks to a 2-1 Ottawa victory on Monday, the Senators have won four of the six meetings with the Flames, more than one-third of their wins.

Related: NHL power rankings – Panthers roar to No. 1 ahead of Stanley Cup playoffs

That’s why the Flames knew they blew an important opportunity with another subpar performance in which they scored one goal against a rookie goalie making his first NHL start.

“It’s pretty sour. It hurts,” Flames forward Elias Lindholm said. “It was a game we needed.”

After winning their first three games with new head coach Darryl Sutter following Geoff Ward’s firing, the Flames have lost three of four games.

Against an Ottawa team that is by far the worst defensive side in the league, the Flames have only one goal in three of their six meetings. Sure, the Flames can boast about firing 36 shots on goal against Filip Gustavsson on Monday, along with attempting another 33 that were either blocked or missed the net, but their high-danger shots were minimal.

“This team has some trouble scoring goals; this is a not a two-game thing — I don’t know where that comes from,” Sutter said. “This team has to check for chances and check well to have a chance to win. You want to be a playoff team, you’ve got to win 2-1 games. That’s the way it works.”

The rebuilding Senators, who are down to their fourth-string goalie with Matt Murray, Marcus Hogberg and Joey Daccord all out due to injury, are in no way a potential playoff team.

They certainly are enjoying the role of spoiler when they can. Gustavsson, who’ll turn 23 in June, became the first Senators goalie to win in his debut start since Andrew Hammond did on Feb. 18, 2015.

“He did everything in there tonight,” coach D.J. Smith said. “He looked calm, made the saves he had to make. We hung him out on that breakaway there at the end, but he did everything that you want your goalie to do.”

“It means everything,” said Gustavsson, who originally was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I’ve been here for a couple of years and haven’t always had the success I wanted. And when they put me in, I delivered what they wanted from me in the first place when they traded for me. It’s a great feeling to give something back to them and for giving me the chance to play in the best hockey league.”

He’s not alone having fun, even if wins aren’t easy to come by.

Related: NHL trade rumors – Latest buzz for 2021 free agency

Forward Ryan Dzingel, who was traded from Ottawa two years ago as a pending unrestricted free agent, struggled while with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, but since being re-acquired by the Senators has five goals in nine games.

“I like being here, and I like putting that sweater on,” Dzingel said. “It just feels normal to me because I’ve been here for so long, development camp when I was 18 years old. I’m playing with really good linemates right now.”

The Senators will make one change. Forward Austin Watson suffered a broken hand after blocking a shot late in Monday’s game, and Alex Formenton is his likely replacement.

–Field Level Media