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TOUGH TO SWALLOW

Flames frustrated with their inability to finish in loss to Sharks

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Melees. Ruckuses. Scrambles.

Valiant shot blocks by sliding D-men. 

Last-ditch denials.

Skipping pucks. Rolling pucks. Hide-and-seek pucks.

"We've gotta bear down and put some of those in," said left-winger Matthew Tkachuk in the wake of a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"You can say you're getting chances, all that, everything's great … but we've got to put some of those in."

The Flames certainly had ample opportunities.

Thirty-eight of 'em by official tally. Pockets of intense pressure that seemed destined to pop in a goal, or two, or three.

But a deadly combination of goaltender Martin Jones, bad fortune and a lack of killer instinct at the fish-or-cut-bait moment condemned them.

"It's very disappointing," confessed Tkachuk. "Now they're what? Two points behind us? Would've been nice to get a cushion.

"Those four-point games are huge. We didn't get it done tonight."

Certainly everything began upbeat enough, Mark Jankowski deflecting a Mark Giordano wrist shot from the left point for a 1-0 home-side lead not even five minutes in.

Off to the proverbial races, right?

Think again.

Two strange ones at the expense of David Rittich in a little over a minute turned the game on its ear: An Evander Kane sling-shot along the ice from distance triple-banking off Rittich's stick, blocker AND right heel to somehow locate the back of the net, followed by a clearance attempt from the Czech goaltender that hit an onrushing Brent Burns up high, providing the big, bearded fella with an absurdly empty net to hit. Shorthanded, no less.

Those faux pas spelled a quick night's work for Rittich: Two goals on six goals in a shade over 10 minutes.

Enter Mike Smith. First shot he faced, a deft Tomas Hertl deflection for a 3-1 San Jose advantage. 

Three goals in a minute and 25 seconds.

"I don't think we had a great start, turning pucks over," sighed centre Sean Monahan. "I mean, that's when they create their chances. They did that, capitalized and we were kinda chasing the game right from the start."

The opening 12 minutes, said coach Bill Peters, were fine and dandy.

"Then," he said, "we had a tough stretch with the 4-on-4 goal, a shorthanded goal and then the one right away, prior to the TV timeout.

"I thought offensively we did some things, for sure. I thought we could've been a little harder at our net. There were some plays when they scored in tight, by the blue paint."

The closing 40 minutes developed into a case study in stout San Jose defensive resilience, coupled with good luck. But maybe those things go hand in hand.

If it wasn't defenceman Radim Simek sliding over to block an Elias Lindholm try with Jones down and out, it was the former Calgary Hitmen goaltending star doing the splits to repel Johnny Gaudreau's wraparound backhand try via his right pad or Lindholm ping-ing iron, far side, 2-on-1 after stripping the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic just outside the Calgary blueline.

Maybe the hosts' evening of angst was best personified by their most lethal weapon, Gaudreau, off at an angle, collecting the leftovers of another Lindholm try, net gaping, getting next-to-nothing on the shot attempt, allowing Jones to dive frantically back and claw the puck off the goal line.

Just in the nick of time, naturally.

Gaudreau, astonished, glanced heavenward, perhaps in search of divine intervention.

None would be forthcoming on this night.

"You gotta bear down,'' Monahan maintained of the collective misfires. "It's the NHL and it's not easy to score goals. So when you get chances you've got to put the puck in the back of the net or it's gonna come back to bite you."

The decision to yank Rittich, such a revelation so far in this statement-making season, wasn't a difficult one in Peters' mind.

"We were down two," said the boss. "He didn't look comfortable. I didn't like either goal.

"We talked about putting him back in, but decided against it."

The Flames practice at the 'Dome on Friday lunchtime before heading out on a tricky four-game road swing that takes in stops at Vancouver, Tampa, Florida and Pittsburgh.

While taking stock late Thursday night, Monahan wasn't having any of the All-Star break rust excuses.

"We had two games there, a couple good practices," he said. "We should've been better tonight. That's on us as a team.

"I don't really know how to explain it. I know we've got a better game to show. I mean, we didn't show it tonight and it's an important road trip coming up.

"We've got to flip the camera and get moving forward."

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