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"THERE SHOULDN'T BE ANY EXCUSES"

Flames take responsibility for falling apart in 5-0 loss to Coyotes

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

Dissect it, study it, use it or disown it. Learn from it or purge it from memory. Torch it or shred it or bury it. 

Do whatever they will with it.

Just never repeat it.

At least, not if playoffs are within their scope of imagination.

"What a (fill-in-the-blank) show,'' murmured goaltender Chad Johnson, stationed in front of his stall, dutifully awaiting the media to decend en masse.

Certainly caught the spirit of the thing.

"It's kind of the carbon copy every game that's come out of all these breaks,'' said Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan, following a calamitous 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.

"You come out with a lot of energy and then you lack some execution later in the game.

"There shouldn't be any excuses. We had a practice and a morning skate. We should've been able to bury some of our chances and execute better.

"We've just got to find a way to get that done."

Monday, over the closing 40 minutes of the game, the Flames were a pale shadow of the team that had strung together four wins out of its most recent five starts, including confidence-builders over in-form opponents such as the Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild and, most impressively, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We get down two goals,'' sighed Johnson, "and all of a sudden we fold in and change our game.

"It's mental. We know how we have to play. It's all in the willingness to do it."

Blaming the four-day break?

Give me a break was Mark Giordano's response to that too-convenient line of reasoning.

"Honestly,'' admonished the skipper, "we're all NHL players in here and elite athletes. We've got to take account of ourselves and be responsible.

"We came back and had a great practice yesterday. We come out and get almost 20 shots there in the first.

"Then we changed our game. That's the bottom line. We changed the way we played in the second and third because we were trying to press and tie it up.

"Especially against a team like Arizona, you've got to play it out. Stick with it."

With Arizona netminder Mike Smith flagging down pucks like Brooks Robinson plucking liners out the air at the hot corner, and the Flames a bit less than cutting-edge around the net, the Coyotes took an undeserved 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Yes they were trailing but were controlling tempo and generating the opportunities, racking up 19 shots.

And then … the sky fell in.

Caught trying to over-extemporize, Johnny Gaudreau surrendered possession, play instantly shifted direction and within seconds Christian Dvorak had doubled the visitors' advantage with his eighth of the season, at 2:38 of the second period.

(Gaudreau was hastily demoted to the fourth line. "He turned the puck over in the neutral zone there,'' explained Gulutzan. "We were trying to play direct. It was 1-0").

Less than two minutes later, Arizona left-winger Jordan Martinook shouldered Dennis Wideman off the puck, easy as you please, and sailed in to unleash a poison dart past Johnson: 3-0.

Matters only deteriorated for the locals when former Hitmen forward Ryan White, rooting around in front, knocked the puck over the goal-line at 11:08.

Brian Elliott replaced Johnson to open the third period and Dvorak greeted him with his second of the evening at 2:12.

"That's as bad as it gets, the second and third there,'' Giordano muttered.

"Guys trying to do too much and basically giving them odd-man rushes and chances … it's unacceptable."

The evening even began oddly, a Coyote around-the-net dump in on the game's first shift caroming kicking out to 'Yotes winger Jamie McGinn.

Diving frantically back, Johnson spared himself blushes by managing to extend the paddle of his goal stick out far enough to block McGinn's shot attempt.

Crisis averted.

However momentarily.

Arizona still struck first, Martin Hanzal winning a draw against Matt Stajan and making a beeline to the front of the net to deflect a Radim Vrbata shot behind Johnson at 6:45.

From then on, Smith took centre stage, demanded the spotlight and held it.

On one particularly larcenous sequence, spread-eagled on his chest and facing the centre dot, he spat out back-to-back whacks from Sean Monahan and then, with flourish, flagged down the centre's third try for career goal No. 100 out of the air.

"I thought we looked like world beaters in the first period here, too,'' reasoned Gulutzan, asked about the wild performance swing from Pittsburgh to Monday. 

"We just didn't stay with it.

"I don't what it is.

"We out-chance them, I think it was 7-2, and then we start to go for it and they end up scoring three and out-chancing us in the second.

"We've just got to stick with it."

 

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