CALGARY – No food, no drink, no emotion, no execution, no chance.
Playing their first game at home in over a month, the Calgary Flames put on a display eerily similar to the lacklustre efforts they repeatedly pieced together in last year’s bubble against the Ottawa Senators.
The only difference was that this time they didn’t embarrass themselves in an empty arena.
Limited to 50 per cent capacity by provincial health regulations, the Saddledome hosted 9,639 masked diehards who were prohibited from buying or consuming any food or beverage.
In the middle of a barren, boarded up concourse were two large Gatorade coolers of water with tiny paper cups provided for fans to help wash down what may have been the team’s worst outing of the season.
The only two things interesting about the game included a Milan Lucic fight with Scott Sabourin that attempted to get the crowd and his team back into it, and a feisty exchange between Matthew Tkachuk and brother Brady.
The latter came with five minutes left, when the bigger-but-younger brother shoved Matthew down after a whistle in front of Ottawa’s net, prompting Tkachuk to reach up from the ice to forcefully slash Brady in the thigh.
No words were exchanged.
Those will come from their mother later.
You can bet the Flames will get quite the tongue-lashing from Darryl Sutter, whose club did little to start proving it will be capable of turning its fortunes around in a rink in which the team is now 4-4-4.
“Just disappointing, the energy and the emotion was lacking in our game,” said Sutter after a 4-1 loss to an Ottawa team that has played just one game since Christmas.
“I just think the emotional level of our group has been lacking for a period of time now.
I think Looch recognized that and tried to grab onto it tonight.”
He was one of the only Flames doing their part to coax the sparsely populated crowd into the proceedings after the team gave up the opening goal 1:43 into the evening.
Hardly the bounce back the team vowed through the five days it had to rest and prepare for one of the league’s bottom-feeders.
“This is not a knock on goaltending or anyone, but when the other team scores a goal on the first shot it’s never the way you want to start a game,” said Lucic, who dominated Sabourin in the bout which came with the Flames down 2-0.
“This giving up four goals a game doesn’t work for us, or anyone. When you’re losing battles and little things like that, that’s when frustration kicks in and the game gets away from you.
“We didn’t have that in the first 28 games before we got hit by Covid so we’re going to have to get back to doing the little things again.”
Things like turning the puck over at their own blue line as the Flames did on both of Nick Paul’s goals in the first period.
The crowd and the team seemed out of it at that point, as a poor first period was followed by an even worse effort in the second when the Flames were outshot 13-6 and went down 3-0 when Drake Batherson roofed one short side on Jacob Markstrom who hugged all but a portion of the post.
Matthew Tkachuk offered a flicker of hope 47 seconds into the third when he redirected a Chris Tanev point shot past Matt Murray.
However, a Connor Brown breakaway conversion minutes later put an exclamation mark on the team’s fourth-straight loss and eighth in their last ten.
“It’s definitely not the way we want it to be right now,” said Tkachuk, whose club now sits one point out of a wild card spot.
“Thank god we had the start we did to keep us kind of in it still. There’s no panic by any stretch, but we want to fix this, and we only have eight left before the all-star game, so we’d love to get this figured out soon so we can go on a little bit of a roll before that all-star break.”
Things won’t get much easier for the bunch as their next game comes Tuesday against the first-place Florida Panthers, who just recently schooled the Flames in Sunrise.
“The big thing is I’d like for our team to get into some sort of rhythm,” said Sutter, whose club has another four days off before they’ll play again.
“I don’t think there’s enough disappointment when they lose. Just not enough emotion in our game right now.”
The fact that Sam Bennett will be returning to the Dome to face his old club for the first time since being traded by the Flames should add some juice.
“It seems like ever since we’ve come back in these six games (since the Christmas/Covid break) it hasn’t been there consistently enough,” said Lucic of the team’s emotional engagement.
“That’s something we’re going to have to find again. It’s up to us as a group to find that together.”
Promised Tkachuk, “We’ll come out with emotion the next game. I don’t doubt that.”