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The drought may be over.
But the slump continues for the Calgary Flames after they dropped a 3-2 decision Tuesday to the visiting Colorado Avalanche. It was their fifth consecutive loss and fourth in regulation, on the heels of back-to-back shut-outs over the weekend against Arizona and Vegas.
To make matters worse, it was against the Avalanche — of COURSE it was against the Avalanche — which only poured more salt in a wound that has been open since the team’s springtime playoff exit when they lost in five games to the eighth-seeded upstart Avs after the Flames had claimed 107 points and 50 wins during the regular season.
Derek Ryan snapped a goalless drought that lasted a whopping 167:44, dating back to last week’s 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars when Sean Monahan potted one on the powerplay.
“I felt like we stuck to it, played our game, created chances, and you saw it there in the third — I thought we turned it up a little bit,” he said. “We just have to figure out a way to start getting some leads in the first period, stop chasing the game and start scoring some more goals.”
Ryan’s strike — his fourth of the season — was a big sigh of relief for a group desperately looking for a positive sign that things are going to improve.
Perhaps the signs are there, looking at the way the Flames out-shot the Avalanche 33-26 in the end and — at times — looked like they had some jump.
But the makeshift top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm were all minus-two and were held off the scoresheet. The team’s best players are still vastly underperforming (Monahan had an assist and was a plus-one) but their biggest problem remains obvious: playing from behind.
It was the seventh consecutive game in which the Flames have allowed the first goal while their record when trailing after two periods dropped to 3-10-2.
“It’s physically exhausting and it’s mentally exhausting,” said Ryan, who connected with 2:19 left in the second period. “You’re down on the bench. Before the game, we have a lot of energy and pretty vibrant on the bench. All of a sudden they score one or two goals and it’s pretty tough to still have that energy.
“I thought we stuck to it as well as much as we can but we have to start scoring the first goal of the game.”
Ryan’s line was noticeable. Milan Lucic had six shots on net and three hits, while newcomer Dillon Dube was a plus-one with three shots. Ryan went 56 per cent in the face-off circle, winning 9-of-16.
The Avs had a two-goal lead after the first period on a pair of strikes from Andre Burakovsky, who beat his training buddy Rasmus Andersson on both goals.
It was hardly all Andersson’s fault, of course, as the Flames’ new-look top trio was on the ice for both of them, while Gaudreau was guilty of a poorly timed change in the second period and it led to Vladislav Kamenev’s strike and Colorado’s first goal.
Andrew Mangiapane injected some life into the Scotiabank Saddledome with 4:16 remaining and the Flames nearly scored on a goal-mouth scramble in the final minute. They also had a chance with a powerplay with 20.6 left on the clock and David Rittich parked on the home bench.
But it was too little, too late.
“It’s not working right now playing from behind as much as we are,” said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. “We have to find a way to get the first one or play with the lead somehow and go from there.
“It’s hard when you play from behind all of the time.”
When the Flames signed blueliner Brandon Davidson in the off-season, the 28-year-old from nearby Taber described it as a homecoming of sorts.
But Tuesday, things became a little more real when Davidson drew into the Flames lineup in the wake of a wave of injuries to the team’s blueline.
It was his first game as a Flame — and his first NHL appearance since Jan. 9 against the Nashville Predators when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks organization last season.
“Just adrenaline,” Davidson said prior to Tuesday’s game. “I’m not nervous or anything like that. I’ve been here 100 times before and I carry a lot of pride in earning this game here (Tuesday). I just want to get out there and do the best I can. I know I deserve this and I know I’ve worked really hard to get to here, so it’s just excitement. Pure excitement.
“There is a lot of energy flowing through me right now, and just excited to get out there.”
The weather — and end result — put a damper on things but Davidson still had a pile of family and friends who were planning on attending the game.
“This is home for me,” Davidson said. “Calgary is home, and I want to make this a permanent spot.
“So I’m going to try to put my best foot forward (Monday).”
Davidson wasn’t the only one scrambling for tickets Tuesday as Calgary’s Cale Makar had figured he had about 50 guests headed to the game.
The Avalanche rookie who played for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League for two seasons made his NHL debut during the 2019 playoffs against his hometown team.
Which, of course, his loved ones still keep tabs on — regardless of their change of allegiance.
“I know some of my family members are talking about wearing a Flames hat and Avalanche jersey, just because they know the Flames need the win right now,” Makar said.
Truth be told, Makar, who celebrated his 21st birthday Oct. 30, is carving out his own path in the NHL and making his mark in rapid fashion.
Against the Flames, he added an assist to his climbing statistics which include five goals, 18 assists in 21 games-played, which currently leads all NHL rookies.
No surprise the Calder Trophy talk has heated up with many predicting Makar is a shoo-in if things continue the way they’ve been going.
“I’m honoured but at the end of the day, it’s not something that is at the forefront of my mind really ever,” Makar said. “If it comes, it comes. I just go back to the team success — everybody is going to get individual accolades if the team succeeds. So it’s not something I’m really worried about at all.”
The Flames’ sick bay is getting crowded as the team announced winger Sam Bennett will be week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
Meanwhile, Travis Hamonic (lower body) did not play against the Avalanche and will be reassessed Wednesday before the team departs for a four-game road trip.
“Those are two of our important players, gritty guys who bring a lot when it comes to the physical side of things,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “Missing Hammer, he’s a great penalty-killer, a top-four defenceman. We have guys in here who can step up and fill that role, and now is a good opportunity for them. We’ll try to get some big wins until we get those guys back.”
There is, however, some good news about TJ Brodie, who had a scary medical episode last Thursday when he collapsed and started convulsing on the ice during practice. His test results remain positive, but the 29-year-old still is undergoing more examinations.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019