| March 16, 2021, 1: 35 AM
In hockey you can play a 100-minute playoff game, and when a mistake is made and the overtime goal is scored, it is as if the teams played just 10 seconds of hockey. As if nothing that led up to the mistake mattered, or even happened.
Well, we’re not in the playoffs yet, but someone should tell the Calgary Flames that.
Under new head coach Darryl Sutter, the Flames are playing the kind of blood ‘n’ guts game usually reserved for springtime in the NHL. The kind of game that leaves opposing coaches focused on the small pictures within the game, rather than the big picture of an entire night.
“Three of the four goals were poor reads and turnovers. Our fingers were all over the goals we gave them,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said after a 4-3 loss to the Flames, Edmonton’s second straight defeat. “We come out of the first period 0-0, made some mistakes to get behind, we got back in the game and then we made another mistake to give it away.”
Of course, coaches watch a game differently than fans.
First of all, there are no beers and snacks. Secondly, they are watching players who have been instructed to execute a game plan, and are acutely aware when that execution is flawed.
So we see Connor McDavid cough up a puck in the neutral zone that immediately goes the other way and ends up in Edmonton’s net. “Where the heck is that defenceman?” we ask.
“On McDavid’s turnover, (Ethan) Bear’s skate broke, and he’s going to the bench,” Tippett explained, not letting McDavid off the hook. “That puck’s gotta get in, but that being said if Bear’s skate isn’t broken he’s probably not going to the bench either.”
Then there was Calgary’s third goal, a miscue by Oilers goalie Mike Smith.
“On the Smitty one, it bounces. But I think our defencemen should go help him more, too,” Tippett said. “So it’s just not one turnover. There are some things that go into the repercussions of a turnover that you should be able to clean up.”
Fans will focus on the one goal Smith’s puck-handling surrenders. Big-picture, however, his superior puck skills likely save 20 goals a season.
“He’s an awesome stick handler, and he gives us a lot of easy break outs. He’s going to give up (a goal) once in a while, but he gives us a lot more,” defenceman Adam Larsson said. “It was a fluky goal. That will happen. He played unreal the rest of the game, and even before, too. We are trusting Smitty back there.”
“I don’t even know if I’d call that a mistake,” echoed winger Josh Archibald, who scored Monday. “It just bounces over his stick … and he can’t play it so he has to get back to his net. He’s one of the best, if not the best in the league at helping us out.
“We’ve got to keep letting him do his thing.”
Tippett did not opine on the game-winning goal by Noah Hanifin, as the Flames defenceman followed up on an odd-man rush and ripped home a wrist shot from the slot past a screened Smith. If he did, however, he’d have been wondering why Ethan Bear was pinching on the play, taking a careless, unnecessary chance that created the rush that cost Edmonton the final goal.
Sometimes hockey is as much about not doing things to cost your team goal, as it is about scoring the goals that help you win. Bear is that player right now, goalless on the season and defensively derelict as he suffers through a forgettable sophomore campaign.
Bear’s presence in Wednesday’s lineup may hinge on the availability of Tyson Barrie, who did not play in the final 40 minutes Monday. Either way, Evan Bouchard could be in Wednesday as Edmonton gets the hard-charging Flames again.
“They play a really structured, strong game with their new coach,” said Larsson, who scored a rare goal. “But we came back. We had a chance to win the game. But we didn’t.
“We’re still a confident group. We just have to play a lot harder.”
The Oilers lost centre Jujhar Khaira in Period 1, and with Barrie going out shortly thereafter they went shorthanded the rest of the game. We never did see what happened with Barrie.
There was no question what caused Khaira’s absence — he answered the bell with Brett Ritchie after a questionable hit on Calgary defenceman Oliver Kylington. Ritchie caught Khaira with a thunderous right hand that resulted in a wobbly stagger to the Oilers dressing room.
As for the hit, where principle contact was definitely made to Kylington’s head, we’d be surprised if the Department of Player Safety did not investigate. But for a first-time offender — and Khaira didn’t skate through the player — a $5,000 fine seems most likely.
As for Barrie, it’s awesome having the fifth-leading scorer among NHL defencemen — until he gets hurt. Then, he leaves a huge void in the offence, including on the power play, where Edmonton went goalless in just one attempt.
So, for the second straight game the Oilers walk away not completely dissatisfied with their effort, but without reward.
How do they change that routine?
“We just have to win the game. That’s how simple it is,” Larsson said. “There are no secrets behind it. We just have to win.”