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All-Star break comes at right time for Flames after lacklustre win over Blackhawks

Jacob Markstrom Noah Hanifin Calgary Flames Jacob Markstrom and Noah Hanifin - The Canadian Press

The Calgary Flames’ 1-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night did not feel like a win. 

Sure, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” played in the locker room, but the music was much quieter than it normally is after victories. The mood was far from happy. Instead, it was sullen, relief, and exhaustion as they head into the All-Star break. They know they didn’t play close to their best versus a Chicago team that’s tied with the San Jose Sharks for last place in the NHL. 

“Marky [Jacob Markstrom] gave us two points there for sure,” said Elias Lindholm, who scored Calgary’s lone goal.

“It was not good enough from our side.”

Markstrom stopped all 32 shots he faced as the Blackhawks thoroughly outplayed the Flames (22-22-5, 49 points, sixth in the wild-card race). According to Natural Stat Trick, in the first period, Chicago had nine high-danger chances to Calgary’s one. 

“This last stretch has been tough…our game hasn’t been good enough,” Lindholm said. Calgary had lost four straight prior to Saturday. 

“With our eight breakaways [against] and I was on for seven of them, without Marky, we probably would have lost this game,” said blueliner Rasmus Andersson.

Markstrom chalked his performance up to wanting to atone for a slight dip in play of late. Before Saturday, the 33-year-old had allowed four goals in each of the previous two contests.

“Previous few games, I haven’t been able to stop [those chances], so it was for sure a little frustrating not to help the team out. And today I was able to,” he said.

“I felt good…the guys played good. The penalty kill was really good, blocking huge shots. Even the six-on-five was really good.”

Head coach Ryan Huska called his goaltender’s performance “amazing” while adding that there were only “six or seven” players who showed up. 

“He’s a competitor,” he said.

“He’s very much in our leadership group because of how he holds himself and the presence that he has. The way he competes and the way he comes to the rink every day rubs off on people.”

Markstrom showcased that competitive, team-first streak when asked if it was any more special to have gotten the shutout.

“No, it’s two points,” he replied. 

In his first season at the helm, Huska has preached plenty about how the Flames had to improve their puck management. Versus the Blackhawks, they had 16 giveaways to Chicago’s 11, while Chicago had nine takeaways to Calgary’s five. The coach chalked it up to exhaustion, saying that the weeklong break is coming at the perfect time. 

“I think a lot of that is the mental fatigue,” Huska said.

“This break is coming at the right time for our team where the guys can get away for a little bit [and] not think about hockey.”

Huska, who has seldom used the media to deliver pointed messages to players, called out his fourth line, which has been in flux of late. In the past week, it has changed over entirely. Dillon Dube is on personal leave, Adam Ruzicka was claimed off waivers, and A.J. Greer is out for two months with a broken foot. Recent call-ups Adam Klapka, Cole Schwindt, and Walker Duehr failed to impress the coach. 

“I didn’t feel like that line was very good for us,” Huska said.

“It’s, I guess, my decision tonight.”

The Flames enter the break facing an uphill climb to the playoffs and with bigger questions about the direction of the team. 

They’re 0.500 and have to leapfrog three teams to get the second Wild Card spot. They’ve lost four of their past five games. The group doesn’t really have an identity past the halfway mark of the season. And it’s likely general manager Craig Conroy will move pending free agents like Lindholm, Chris Tanev, and Noah Hanifin

To rediscover their form and manage the remainder of the season, Huska thinks it’s important they not focus on hockey over the coming days. 

“They don’t get many days off during the season, so it’s nice for them to have a few days where they can think nothing of it,” Huska said.

“I really want them to be smart, be safe, and enjoy their time with their families.”

“You’re really gonna try and just get away and enjoy a nice beer by the pool,” Andersson said.