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Oilers spoil Flames home opener with victory

Flames fire 24 shots in opening period, flirt with franchise record

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- They were there, the bitter rivals, languishing the ropes early on in the bout. Absorbing punishment. 

Apparently ready to go.

But despite swinging for the ring lights, the Calgary Flames could not find the elusive KO punch anywhere in their arsenal.

That lack of a killer instinct would come back to bite them, painfully, Friday night.

"It's disappointing,'' admitted Flames' skipper Mark Giordano, digesting the second half of back-to-back season-opening losses to the Edmonton Oilers.

"Our first period was really good. Then, for whatever reason, in the second we started chasing it a bit. Again, we weren't making clean plays and giving them speed through the neutral zone.

"We've got to be a lot better in a lot of areas. Special teams was No. 1 tonight."

Friday's 5-3 disappointment, on the heels of a 7-4 setback up north on Wednesday, has amped up the urgency to get this downturn rectified.

The Flames understand from experience how difficult it can be to make up ground if you fall behind in the early stages of a season.

And there's no respite as post-game they boarded a charter flight heading west. Saturday night they'll be facing another loud, rancorous home-opening-night crowd in Vancouver.

As in the loss that christened the $480 million Rogers Arena 48 hours earlier, the Flames were far too casual with the puck Friday.

And not nearly good enough on special teams.

The Oilers scored two via the powerplay and one shorthanded. Calgary's powerplay, meanwhile, fizzled on five opportunities.

"We're not giving up a tonne of chances," critiqued coach Glen Gulutzan. "We're just giving right real high-quality chances.

"And there's a big difference.

"Those things have to go down."

The frustrating part from a Calgary perspective is that the evening had started so brightly.

Energized by the Scotiabank Saddledome crowd, determined to make amends for the curtain-raising loss, the locals stormed out of the blocks, putting the visitors back on their heels.

The 24 first period shots the Flames pelted at Oilers' goalie Cam Talbot through the opening 20 minutes came up only one shy of the franchise record, set in 1988 and equalled in 2005.

Critically, though, they led by only the slenderest of margins, 2-1 - through Sean Monahan only 1:28 in followed by Michael Frolic at 11:35 - trooping off the intermission.

Video: EDM@CGY: Monahan puts in rebound to open up scoring

And, worryingly, the chances they had allowed were of high, high quality.

"We had a lot of emotion in the first period,'' said Gulutzan, "and we played on it but it seemed we had a letdown in the second.

"We got out of our rhythm and started trying to do things ourselves."

Given a reprieve, to open the middle stanza the Oilers began to find their jet stream tempo and turned the game their way.

"We had a good start," echoed Flames' winger Troy Brouwer. "The building was into it, we were having a lot of fun.

"We gave up a couple odd man rushes, they were abler to capitalize, then we kinda shot out ourselves in foot with a couple more turnovers and ..."

Yes. And.

The Oilers ripped a 2-2, 40-minute tie open in a 5:19 span to open the third period.

A tic-tac-toe three-way passing play, Connor McDavid to Milan Lucic to Leon Draisaitl, produced Edmonton's second PP goal of the evening and established their first lead, 3-2, 1:28 in.

When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was subsequently banished for interference, Calgary's powerplay had a chance to atone for earlier failures and throw the outcome right back in the balance.

Instead, Edmonton centre Mark Letestu burst in shorthanded, cutting hard to the net, and coaxed the puck between the wickets of Calgary netminder Brian Ellliott: 4-2 Oilers.

At times Friday, Elliott must've felt like an orphaned foundling. The Oilers, using that lickety-split speed, five breakaway chances on the night.

"There were a lot," sighed Elliott ruefully. "I didn't keep count.

"We can't give those up. Especially against a team we know will jump on any opportunity. They're not looking to block shots, they're looking to skate by you, whacking it up and getting breakaways."

Falling behind a pair seemed to finally jolt the homesteaders to life, and defenceman Jyrik Jokipakka beat Talbot to whittle the deficit to a goal with a full seven and a half minutes remaining.

Video: EDM@CGY: Jokipakka snipes Talbot glove side

Hoisting a battering ram, the Flames tried to break down the Talbot's door but couldn't.

Draisaitl, once again, this time skimming the puck into a Calgary net vacated for a sixth attacker, at 18:40.

"Once we got that third goal," said Elliott, "we cranked it up and our intensity got to where it should be all night.

"So it's there. We just got to bring it out consistently."

Stops, starts. Bits, pieces. Stretches, patches.

Simply not going to cut it, knows the boss.

"We've just got to put together 60 minutes," emphasized Gulutzan. "We've played really well in spurts. But you can't just play one period or 12 good minutes of a game.

"You've got to have 60 minutes of solid effort, staying out of the penalty box and having good special teams."

It may be early but already time is of the essence.

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