The Calgary Flames fell 5-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night and while the team is not happy with their play, Eric Nystrom can leave Ohio with his head held high.
Nystrom has been providing the Flames with some much-needed depth over the past month. While he's always been a hard worker, the gritty winger has been particularly tenacious in the last 15 games.
His defensive skills have drastically improved over the course of the season and that skill set was on display against Columbus.
Right after Curtis McElhinney took over goaltending duties, former Flame Mike Commodore was wide open and received a pass. He was about to wire a shot at the rookie goalie but Nystrom flew over to the defenseman, stripped him of the puck and deposited it into the neutral zone.
Less than 20 seconds later, the forward was back in the defensive zone making a big block on a shot from Kris Russell.
He spent 4:00 on the penalty kill.
He still felt there was room for improvement defensively, particularly on the penalty kill. The Blue Jackets were able to pick up a power play marker in the first period.
"That one goal killed us you know? We've got to be better in that aspect."
In terms of his offensive output numbers, Nystrom has been thwarted by excellent goaltending. He had a great scoring opportunity early in the game when he made a crafty dipsy-doodle play around Kris Russell and got a backhand off on Steve Mason.
"It’s tough right now, the goalies are playing well," Nystrom lamented when asked about his scoring chances. "It’s been tough around there right now but we just need one to get the ball rolling."
Throughout 60 minutes, Nystrom was one of the few Flames without any infractions and picked up 14:50 in ice time. He was a -1 on the night and was able to get two good scoring opportunities.
Keenan has had nothing but praise for the 26 year-old lately.
"He plays with desperation," said Keenan. "He's fearless. He blocks shots. He kills penalities. A great team individual."
Nystrom has been able to play smart, defensive-minded hockey even through tough battles like Thursday's loss, showing his mental strength. He rarely lets a bad game get the best of him.
CBC commentator Don Cherry has also noticed the heart Nystrom plays with and recently sung the New York native's praises.
"My type of player. That's the kind of guy you win with," Cherry said on Hockey Night in Canada.
When asked about what he thought of Cherry's comments, Nystrom was all smiles.
"I'm flattered, honestly. I never thought in a million years that a guy on Hockey Night in Canada, on a national broadcast, would be highlighting some plays I made. Really exciting."
His teammates have also raved about Nystrom.
"He knows he can get the job done for the team. It's not a cockiness, it's not an arrogance, it's a confidence that, 'I can be there for you guys.' You can rely on him. That's one thing about Ny that I really appreciate," Mike Cammalleri said last week.
Cammalleri was quick to point out that players like Nystrom don't get the thanks they deserve.
"If you ask a lot of guys who aren't in that role, like myself, it's a thankless job. They're blocking shots, getting broken bones, on a nightly basis. And, a lot of the time, they're not on the front page of the paper after we win. It's thankless work, so it's nice to get them some recognition."
Nystrom has scored four times this season and has nine points. One of those goals came against the Flames next opponent, the Minnesota Wild, and with his strong play of late, he'll likely get a big chunk of ice time against Calgary's divisional rivals.
David Van Der Gulik was reassigned to the Quad City Flames with the return of Todd Bertuzzi.
Bertuzzi made his presence known in his return to the lineup. He dropped the gloves with Rostislav Klesla in the second period.
Adam Pardy had his second stint as a forward, replacing Warren Peters in the lineup. Pardy moved back to defense when Jim Vandermeer was sent to the locker room with a game misconduct. The Bonavista, NFLD native picked up 8:08 of ice time. He had 14 minutes of penalties.
McElhinney came in for Miikka Kiprusoff after the Blue Jackets scored their third goal. The switch was aimed at motivating the club as Kiprusoff had made some excellent stops.
Kristian Huselius, who failed to pick up a point against his old club earlier in the season, picked up four assists. Rick Nash also had four helpers, a career-high for the Columbus captain.
Pardy and Cammalleri both picked up 10 minute misconducts at the end of the second period when they got into scraps with Russell and Jakub Voracek. Pardy took the extra roughing call to give the Blue Jackets a power play to start the final frame.