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Flames' lament slow start in setback to Caps

Calgary surrendered two goals in first half of opening period against Washington

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- The polygraph doesn't lie.

And the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is:

Courageous, determined. But not quite at that 'there' yet.

"Disappointed,'' murmured centre Mikael Backlund. "That's how I feel. Just ... disappointed.

"I think we've got more in us.

"We had a good push in the third, but over 60 minutes it wasn't good enough.

"We did some good things? Yeah, maybe. But we lost.

"We can play better the first two periods. A LOT better.

"To be against a good team like that, down 2-1 going into the third and not having played well, no excuses, we've got to find a way to step it up and win this game."

In the build-up to placing their impressive three-game success streak in the dock against the rock-solid, President's Trophy-calibre Washington Capitals, the Calgary Flames emphasized the read they could get out of Sunday night.

A litmus test, of a kind.

In many vital categories -- belief, stick-to-itiveness, nerve -- the Flames actually passed the test, but ultimately would up losing anyway, 3-1.

Video: CGY Recap: Backlund scores in tough loss against Caps

 A "growth game" is how coach Glen Gulutzan, eager to see his improving team go noggin-to-noggin against a top-drawer opponent, had described the confrontation following Sunday's morning skate.

"If you gets points out of the game …," he reasoned 11 hours later, during his post-game media availability in the Ed Whalen Media Lounge. "If anything, it shows our guys where they need to get to.

"That's a really good hockey club. Solid. You could see it in their puck battles. They had a lead, and they could play with it for nearly 60 minutes.

"So there are things we can look at.

"But not as much growth as you'd hoped."

Maybe the overriding vibe of dissatisfaction emanating from the dressing room is an indication of how far these Flames and their ambition have traveled over the past week and change.

With the Capitals having played -- and won -- Saturday night on the west coast against the Vancouver Canucks.

"Back-to-backs,'' said Gulutzan, "can be funny. Usually, the team that's playing the second game has a little bit of leftover in the first period, right?

"We didn't match that. We didn't come prepared to play in the first eight minutes. We talked about growth, trying to learn form this.

"We need to take a look at how we start hockey games. At home, we need to be a better starting club."

As it turned out, the Flames did find themselves in arrears shockingly early, just two minutes in, Caps' right winger Brett Connolly cashing a side-of-the-net backhand pass-out from Jay Beagle after Calgary's defence pair of Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman both got caught in one corner.

The deficit widened at 7:14 of the first period via the power play -- Deryk Engelland banished for high sticking -- on a slick, hard, along-the-ice pass from Ovechkin to Marcus Johansson to re-direct.

Backlund got one back at 13:44, and the rest of the way was spent in a tug-o-war between the goaltenders -- Washington's Braden Holtby and Brian Elliott of the Flames.

Until, that is, 19:35 of the third period, Johannson hitting for his second of the night after Elliott had a seat on the bench and Calgary was going in search of an equalizer with six attackers.

Video: The Flames coach talks about the 3-1 setback

"The first two periods, we sat back a little too much, got caught watching, weren't generating enough -- for whatever reason," summed up captain Mark Giordano. 

"We just didn't create enough energy, enough momentum, four ourselves.

"We had some good looks in the third, and it's a tough way to lose there at the end."

"I thought the first few minutes, we weren't as dialed in as we needed to be,'' said Gulutzan. "The first goal we were out-muscled, we were in the wrong position and usually when you do that, something bad happens."

From a Calgary standpoint, Backlund was nothing short of superb, his first goal of the season a poison dart between Braden Holtby's right arm and body. He, also finishing with six shots and did yeoman service - along with linemates Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk -- in limiting the effectiveness of the Gr8's line 5-on-5.

As well, another fine turn by Elliott, 26 stops, many over the opening 40 minutes as his teammates tried to find their equilibrium.

"Moose,'' praised Giordano, "gave us a chance Through the first two periods, of course, but even in the third, when we were pressing, he came up with a couple of big ones to keep the score at 2-1.

"It's tough to win in this league when you only score one."

Not aiding the cause was another tough night for the powerplay. Only two opportunities, it's true, but there was little to recommend either.

"I was disappointed with our execution,'' acknowledged Gulutzan. "Just throwing each other grenades, it seemed like.

"We didn't generate, didn't get any momentum from those. The flip side is that we only gave them two."

Giordano also bemoaned the lack of powerplay pop, particularly the timing of the missed chances.

"Once we get in the zone, we get some looks,'' he sighed. "It's getting in the zone where we're having some issues.

"That's where it starts.

"We've got to find a way to get that puck in there, grind it around and get shots to the net. Tonight they were good on the entries, but we've got to find a way to get some puck possession."

The min-streak at an end, the Flames now head out for four on the road, opening at the United Centre in Chicago -- site of a morale-building 3-2 victory only a week ago -- before heading due west and a three-game set against the California-based teams.

"I think Chicago,'' acknowledged Gulutzan, '"will be chomping at the bit to get those points back.

"So we'll have to be ready."

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