SUNRISE, Fla. — Not good enough.
The Calgary Flames didn’t make any excuses. They owned their mistakes while insisting there was no panic setting in.
Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was frustrating not only because they dropped points in the standings — again — but because the performance itself was often ugly.
Things you would expect a professional hockey team to pull-off without thinking, like line changes, proved harder than they should have been. Goaltender David Rittich could only hope and pray on most of the Lightning’s goals, as the Flames gave their offensively gifted hosts in Tampa multiple odd-man rushes and room to fire off point-blank one-timers in front of the net.
Do that against a team like the league-leading Lightning, and you’re going to lose. Do that against any NHL team, really, and you’re probably going to lose.
To their credit, the Flames acknowledged that after the loss. There were no canned quotes about squeezing sticks a little harder or sticking with a vaguely-defined process.
Instead, they were refreshingly honest in their assessments of their own play.
“Our details were nowhere near where they needed to be,” Giordano said. “I feel like we’ve let that slip in the last few. We’ll be ready Thursday (against the Florida Panthers), we’ll be a way more focused group and we have to really pull out of this.
“We feel like we’re sliding. We haven’t been getting the points we were usually getting at the start of the year and we have to stop it right now.”
That’s a telling quote from the Flames captain. In their recent losses to the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, it was easy to wonder how the results might have gone differently if the Flames had a few bounces go their way.
On Tuesday night, the Flames simply acknowledged something was wrong and they need to fix it. They don’t believe it’s anything major. Instead, it’s just a commitment to focusing on the details.
“We haven’t been as good with the details of the game since probably the all-star game,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters.
Sean Monahan elaborated.
“At this time of the year, it’s the details of the game, the small areas of the game and playing your role and doing it effectively,” Monahan said. “(Those are) the areas that I think are slipping away right now.”
It is, of course, worth putting all of this in context slightly. The Flames’ season isn’t exactly about to go off a cliff here.
Sure, they’ve fallen out of first-place in the Pacific Division, but they still have a game-in-hand over the San Jose Sharks squad that’s passed them. That’s a pretty nice spot to find yourself in the middle of February, no question about it.
But Flames fans can be forgiven if they aren’t having a nightmarish case of deja-vu. Fair or not, memories of a similar tough stretch at this time of the year linger.
Last year, the Flames were riding high in early-January and on a seven-game winning streak, only to drop six-in-a-row after the all-star break.
The season never recovered, and the Flames ended up missing the playoffs.
There’s no real threat of that happening now, and the truth is that while the Flames have lost four of their last five games, they only really played poorly in one of them — Tuesday against the Lightning.
Whether it’s consequential that the Flames didn’t actually play all that badly during the post-bye-week losing skid last year actually lost four of the games in overtime is up to the reader.
But it only makes sense that winning the Pacific Division is a priority for everyone in the locker room and Calgary sports fans. Why wouldn’t you want to avoid a first-round playoff series with the Vegas Golden Knights?
If they want to avoid that, they need to get back to winning games.
They need to tighten up defensively, get their second line producing and, according to Giordano, start getting back to a strong forechecking game that will help them grind through the moments when games aren’t going their way.
The Flames need to start focusing on the details, in other words.
“We been a pretty good team all year, we know we’re a good team,” said Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic. “That was a frustrating game, it’s not the way we can play, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we know we’re a good team. We trust the players we have in here now. We know we can get the job done.”
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