TORONTO â€” Falling behind has become a routine for the Calgary Flames. Monday night at the Air Canada Centre was no different.
Calgary allowed the first goal of the game â€” again â€” en route to their third loss in a row, a 4-0 defeat by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Flames kept it scoreless until the 18:59 mark of the first period, but that was when Mitch Marner redirected a Nikita Zaitsev point shot past Brian Elliott â€” making it eight straight games that Calgary has surrendered the opening goal and fallen behind.
“I think if we don’t let in that goal at the end of the first it’s a whole different game,” said Elliott, who finished with 24 saves. “We won a draw and (the puck) ended up back in our zone after an icing and sometimes you hurt yourself a little bit.”
The last time Calgary opened the scoring in a game was Jan 7., a 3-1 win over Vancouver. And each of the Flames’ past three outings hasn’t just included the first goal against, falling behind 4-0 in losses to Nashville, Edmonton and Toronto.
“I’m not seeing it as ‘dig a hole’ all the time. I thought we came out hard and had the better looks. We need to stop squeezing and capitalize,” said Flames coach Glen Gulutzan.
“I didn’t think we were overwhelmed or outplayed…they got a bounce, a deflection in, and that’s the way the game goes.”
About the only positive on Monday for Calgary was overcoming a brief scare when Johnny Gaudreau took a hit from Leo Komarov in the second period that sent him to the locker-room.
After Nazem Kadri made it 2-0 Toronto, with his first of two on the night, Gaudreau was on the sideboards in his own zone playing the puck when Komarov followed through with a bodycheck that levelled the 23-year-old to the ice.
It appeared that Komarov’s shoulder made contact to the chin/head area of Gaudreau, who was examined by trainers before leaving for the locker-room. He returned before the period was finished, though, and no penalty was called on the hit.
“I made the pass over and you got to keep your head on a swivel. He’s a big guy so got to be smarter there,” said Gaudreau, while staying mum on if he thought the hit was clean or dirty.
“It looked a little bit worse than it was, I mean, he’s a bit of a smaller guy. I think it was a good hit,” said Komarov.
Gulutzan saw it differently than the Finn, believing that the hit warranted a penalty call.
“There was frustration for me,” he said. “There was no leaving the feet, I understand that, but the replay I saw I thought it was contact to the head, but we’ll see.
“I thought for sure we’d be going on the power play.”
Captain Mark Giordano came to Gaudreau’s aid on the play out of natural reaction, unsure what exactly happened to his teammate.
“Johnny’s our top guy and you don’t like to see him laying there,” said Giordano. “I knew he got him pretty good but I didn’t see where, just the end result.”
Zach Hyman made it 3-0 with a short-handed goal before the second period was through, a goal “that really hurt,” according to Giordano. And Kadri added a power-play marker early in the third to put the game out of reach.
Frustration started to show at times in the final 20 minutes for Calgary.
Kadri’s goal on the man advantage happened because Alex Chaisson took a roughing penalty by getting into the face of Komarov, which led to the Flames forward being moved off the second line for the remainder of the night.
And Sam Bennett and rookie Matthew Tkachuk both received roughing penalties near the end of the game when they both appeared to slew foot their opponents. Bennett took out Connor Carrick while Tkachuk knocked over Martin Marincin at the final buzzer.
Calgary has quick turnover, with a meeting in Montreal against the Canadiens on Tuesday. Finding some offence, especially early in the game, will be important. The Flames have averaged only two goals per outing in their past eight and have been shut out twice.
They have just eight wins in 25 games when trailing after first period and have a minus-13 goal differential in the opening 20 minutes.
“A 4-0 game, you have to score to win games,” said Giordano.
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press