CALGARY – After four straight losses, there’s no debating the Calgary Flames need to jump on a plane heading, well, anywhere.
The questions now revolve around the passengers.
There were too many in Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils, prompting Darryl Sutter to explain afterwards how his team managed to fight back after another horrific first period.
“Had to shorten the bench a lot,” said Sutter, who essentially stapled Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Kevin Rooney and Connor Mackey to the pine after the club was unable to contain the early speed and skill of the Devils.
“When you don’t have the energy or the emotion in the game, then they don’t get to play.
“It doesn’t matter who they are.
“The guys who played in the third got us a point.”
On a blue line devoid of Chris Tanev for the second game in a row, the Flames also lost Michael Stone to an undisclosed injury after his first shift.
Mackey played sparingly after that, leaving Rasmus Andersson, Nikita Zadorov, MacKenzie Weegar and Noah Hanifin to shoulder a heavy load as the team fought back slowly from an early 3-1 deficit.
Theirs was a valiant effort, as Andersson played a career-high 29:43, followed closely by Zadorov and Weegar, who both eclipsed 28 minutes.
They spearheaded a comeback that included a third-period goal by Zadorov.
“I thought they gave it all they could,” said Sutter of the quartet, giving particular kudos to the hulking Russian.
“Big goal, big hits, lots of energy – you can’t ask much more than that.
“Should get that out of three or four of the younger guys every night.”
Yes, he also sliced a bit of ice time from Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane, while continuing to give Jonathan Huberdeau every opportunity to find the game that earned him an $84-million extension.
The only way the frustrated winger was able to stop the bleeding on this night was by grabbing a towel from the bench and skating across the ice to give it to a rinkside fan who required stitches to her head after being hit by a puck.
It was his best move of the night.
Better days ahead.
For what it’s worth, she was one of the few wearing a Johnny Gaudreau jersey that hasn’t been cleverly altered to ‘Huberd-eau’ on the back.
“That is a really fast team and I thought for the most part we managed it pretty good, but I think when you get short on the back end and you’re not where you want to be there, and we’re just not getting production from the top-end guys, you gotta take that point,” said Sutter, whose club wrapped up its eight-game homestand with four straight losses.
“If you don’t have the energy and you’re not very efficient … you should have the energy because you’ve only played nine games in a month.
“If you don’t have the energy, maybe you have a preparation problem.”
How the Flames will prepare for the three-game jaunt through Long Island, Jersey and Boston starting Monday will be interesting given Stone’s exit.
Mackey was minus-2 in a first period that also saw him take a penalty.
At the very least, expect Nicolas Meloche to be called up right away, as there’s still no word on when, or if, Oliver Kylington will be back.
“Boys fought hard, give them credit – we came back,” said Zadorov.
“Shit call in overtime. Cost us the game.”
Indeed, a highly questionable interference call on Elias Lindholm in overtime set the table for Fabian Zetterlund’s second of the night, giving the Devils their sixth straight win.
As Sutter said, “It’s not a call in regulation, so I don’t know how it could be called in overtime.”
Jacob Markstrom had no chance on the roof job, but still slammed his stick in frustration as he left the ice.
Like the previous losses, this wasn’t on him, as this team continues to turn the puck over and make defensive gaffes the veteran netminder has had to step up on.
“Common theme of just lapses in the d-zone, not giving our goaltender a chance,” said Blake Coleman.
“It’s dragging on too long.
“For whatever reason we’ve just got to get that confidence level to make some plays and get guys starting to feel good about themselves, and ourselves as a team, and the only way through is hard work.
“It’s an ugly end to a long homestand. We had an opportunity to set ourselves up, and now we’ve just got to re-set and be even better on the road.”