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Goalie makes impressive debut in season-opening loss to Oilers

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

EDMONTON - His custom-designed mask was ripped clean off (and, luckily, not his head along with it) by a wrecking-ball shot off the stick of Oscar Klefbom.

The peerless Connor McDavid was spinning madly around at 78 RPM on the turntable with everyone else stuck at 331/3. Beefy lads Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic had taken up squatter's rights in his grill all night long.

Often, he found his home he's sworn to protect under siege, the Edmonton Oilers relentlessly battering away at the door, doing their damnedest to break it down.

Still, Mike Smith refused to relent.

Would not back up, let alone give in.

"That's part of who I am,'' said the goaltender, a full night's work and 42 saves later. "I wear my heart on my sleeve.

"Anything can happen. I've played enough games now on enough teams that you've just got to be prepared for anything.

"Whether it's 20 (shots) or 40. You never know.

"I'm feisty out there. It's emotions."

On a night when his teammates needed, and failed, to match their goaltender's scrappiness and resolve against a rampant band of Oilers, Smith shone like a beacon.

A 3-0 losing scoreline in his debut as the Flames' No. 1 didn't begin to do the man justice, reflect the sturdiness he showed in holding his mates in and giving them, for a long time, hope at staging a comeback.

"He was unbelievable tonight," said Michael Frolik. "He did everything he could.

"We didn't have nearly enough offensive zone time. We didn't create nearly enough good chances or traffic in front of their net. When we shot the puck, (Cam Talbot) saw it.

"We said before the game that we had to slow (McDavid) down and he scores three goals."

With the Flames largely stuck in drydock, the Oilers were humming. McDavid registered seven shots, Leon Draisaitl five. Oscar, firing Klefboms from the point, topped 'em all, with nine.

"That was our bright spot tonight, our goaltender,'' said a clearly dissatisfied Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan. "That game is a lot different if he's not playing net for us.

"I thought he was fantastic."

The Smith brilliance began early, as quickly as the opening minute, in fact, McDavid turning up the turbos, leaving Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie in his jet stream, only to be denied by Smith's left pad.

"Not the feeler I wanted to start with but that's the type of player he is,'' agreed Smith.

"When he has space and time, can wind it up, he creates some pretty neat chances.

"That one was nice to get my game going."

Oh, his game was going, all right. 

Video: CGY@EDM: Smith closes the pads to deny McDavid

There was nothing to be done as the reigning Art Ross Trophy recipient cashed the rebound of a sharp-angle Draisaitl shot at 10:01 or when McDavid, an absolute vapour hightailing it down the right-hand boards, counted his second, short side, to provide the hosts a measure of breathing room 8:07 into Period 3. 

When asked what it felt like to see McDavid barreling down at full throttle, Smith could only shake his head softly in admiration.

"It's … frightening.

"He's just so fast. I was maybe a little deep on that one. But you've just gotta be patient. He has so many tricks up his sleeve that you try and make him make the first move.

"But it's more difficult to do it than to say it."

The rampant McDavid completed his hattie with Smith perched on the end of the Calgary bench in favour of a sixth attacker and 59 ticks remaining on the Rogers Arena score clock.

"(McDavid) had the goals,'' griped Gultuzan, "but we …"

He paused.

"This wasn't just about him. They won the battles on the wall. They were clean on their breakouts. They made plays. They put pucks to the net.

"I thought their team was just all-around better than us tonight.

"We need to make this an end-zone game. And we didn't. We were one and done. You can't do that against this club … You see Connor gets a breakaway at the hash marks because he wins a battle.

"I thought we were out-battled and out-executed all night.

"You can see it through a period, where maybe we've got the jitters. Not the whole 60 minutes."

So the Flames now begin preparations for their 2017-18 Scotiabank Saddledome unveiling, against the Winnipeg Jets.

They'll be looking for an upgrade virtually everywhere but in goal.

Video: Smith talks about his performance

"We were flat-footed at the start tonight and then you're chasing,'' summarized Smith. "But I thought we improved as the game went along.

"Hey, it's a long season. There are a lot of games left. We're not happy with the result. We've got to be better. But we can't dwell on this. We have to learn from it.

"They're a good team. You've got to give them credit. This was their home-opener they came out guns-a-blazing.

"Now it's up to us do to the same thing Saturday."

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