Curtis McElhinney's first start was supposed to be a fresh start for the goaltender. Last year's dismal 1-6-1 record was banished from his mind and he was looking at the new season as a blank slate. Unfortunately, the script seemed to rewrite itself.
The Calgary Flames dropped their first game of the season in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars and afterwards, McElhinney was pining the loss solely on himself.
"It wasn’t my best. There were a few things, some timely mistakes that I made that ended up being the deciding factor," he sighed as he was swarmed by media.
"I would have loved to keep that win streak going for the guys."
The locker room held a different opinion on the matter.
"It’s tough. He battles hard every day in practice and it seems like every time he gets a chance to play, we come out flat or just bad luck – they get an quick, early goal," said Rene Bourque. "It kills us a little bit but hopefully we can battle back and next time he gets in there we can get a big win for him."
Head coach Brent Sutter was quick to point out that the loss should be placed upon the team as a whole, not a single player.
"Could he have been better? Yes. But he was probably a lot like a lot of other guys," said Sutter. "We’re talking about someone here who hasn’t had a lot of playing action in over a year. Does he need to be better? Yeah. But so did a lot of other guys tonight."
"In fairness to him, he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to play."
Was there any added pressure due to the win streak?
"Not any added pressure, no. I mean, obviously you want to get that win under your belt right away. We had a good thing going and it would have been nice to keep it going. Unfortunately it wasn’t there tonight."
The first blow came just 1:02 in when Mike Ribeiro was able blast a deflected puck past an out-of-position McElhinney. The 26 year-old seemed to settle down after that, holding the Stars to just a one goal lead through the first frame by making several key saves.
The confidence that built in the first period was quickly dashed though as the Stars Brian Sutherby was able to wrist one past McElhinney just 55 seconds into the middle stanza.
"Those are things I need to take care of and not have happen."
The Flames looked to be getting back in the game after that, with a power play goal courtesy of a Dion Phaneuf bomb from the blueline, but Tom Wandell ruined that. He sent a long-range shot at McElhinney that ended up beating the netminder. That's the goal he'd love to have back.
"It was just one of those pucks," he said while shaking his head. "It hit my stick, ends up going up and over my head and it’s unfortunate. It’s one of those ones that you’re trying to put towards the corner off your stick. It’s tough but I need to take care of that next time."
"Those things happen and it’s all part of the game. There’s going to be bounces everywhere but I need to make the best out of the situation. If one thing happens, I need to make sure I make the next save."
While not pleased with Friday's outing, McElhinney is trying to put the shaky start behind him and keep his confidence up.
"You continue to get better but the most important thing right now is to focus on it, learn from it and move on," was his reply when asked about how he's going to go forward from the loss.
"It’s just a hard work thing for me. You show up every day and try to be the best teammate that I can and hopefully the result will be there next time."
The London, Ont. native could get his next start as early as Tuesday. The Flames are embarking on a two-game road swing on Monday that will see them play back-to-back in Chicago and Columbus. When asked if he was preparing for that, he said the focus was simply on Monday's game and nothing past that.
"I’m not going to really focus on when my next start is. We’ve got a big game coming up before that so I think that will be the primary emphasis and we’ll work towards that one right now."
McElhinney now has a 1-7-1 record. He earned his first NHL victory during the last game of the 2008-09 campaign against the Edmonton Oilers. He resigned with the Flames over the summer for two more seasons.