Sutter on Flames recent struggles: 'I'd boo too'
Few 1-0 leads in National Hockey League history have looked as insurmountable as the Minnesota Wild’s slim lead over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
In front of a near sell-out at the Saddledome, the Wild scored nearly seven minutes into the game and proceeded to suffocate the life out of the hosts by clogging the neutral zone and preventing Calgary from gaining any meaningful offensive zone time. A day after general manager Brad Treliving gave the team a vote of confidence by refusing to blow up a team that has wildly underperformed compared to pre-season expectations, the Flames ended up shut out 3-0 and booed off the ice.
“When you lose like that, I’d boo too,” head coach Darryl Sutter said afterwards.
“Mediocre,” is how blueliner Rasmus Andersson summed up the night.
“I don’t think they’re booing the team,” Sutter said.
Who were they booing then?
“Our top players got to be better players,” the coach replied.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri were a combined -4, showing little of the offensive ability that warranted Treliving to give them both a combined total of $133 million over the coming seasons. Huberdeau was one of two Flames forwards to not register a shot on goal and, as he has far too often this season, could not assert himself on the forecheck or make crisp plays with the puck. Kadri has just two goals in his last 15 games, and neither had an impact when the game was a single shot from being tied.
“I don’t think you change your strategy when you’re down by a goal,” Sutter said.
“There’s guys that aren’t pulling their weight in terms of being on the ice for too many goals against. We had 13 guys who, after two periods, had one or less shot on goal…when you say we’re down a goal, that’s when you have to be able to fight through a little bit of adversity or obstruction or that sort of thing on the ice. It’s obvious we didn’t do it.”
“We’ve got to find a push, we’ve got to find some energy to get that 1-1 goal and go for the next one,” Andersson said.
“They scored the second one and there’s just no energy after that.”
After emotionally engaged and competitive performances versus elite teams in the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs (both of which they lost), the Flames looked noticeably slower and uncompetitive versus the Wild after not practicing on Friday.
“We’ve just got to get the second wave and the third wave and fourth wave and build on each shift, especially in the third period,” Andersson said.
“You’ve got to follow it up, shift after shift after shift. We get a good shift and then get a couple of bad ones. Then we get a good one, then we get three bad ones.”
“It was kind of flat on our end from start to finish,” said veteran forward Milan Lucic, who registered one shot on goal in the loss.
“Just got to be more competitive, got to make more plays, got to finish plays. We need everyone playing their game at the level they can, which we haven’t had all year.”
Lost in the loss was another strong performance by goalie Jacob Markstrom. After Sutter said he would get another run as the everyday starter earlier this week, the much-maligned goalie turned in another strong outing, stopping 30 of 33 shots while looking more calm and composed in net. Similar to his start versus the Leafs, he also managed the game very well by knocking down dump-ins and playing pucks quickly to avoid defensive zone faceoffs.
“It’s two games in a row where we’ve got really good goaltending and goaltending that’s given us a chance to win, but I think very little of that support for him,” Sutter said.
“Especially from our top guys.”
Calgary now sits six points out of the second wild-card spot, currently occupied by the Colorado Avalanche, who have three games in hand. The Flames will need at least a 70 per cent points percentage to have even a slim chance at that final playoff spot in the conference. It begs the question of if more nights like Saturday–a lack of will and competitiveness–will be more common given that playoff hockey is such a longshot with 19 games left.
“If the will’s not there, a guy comes out and says it or whatever, then they shouldn’t be playing, or playing as much,” Tyler Toffoli said.
“I think we’re at a point now where we need to do whatever it takes to win, whether that’s everybody going or some guys aren’t going, then they won’t be playing as much.”
“Every one of us in here really have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Andersson said.
The Flames are back in action on Monday in Dallas against the West-leading Stars.