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Flames finding confidence as five-game trip ends with loss to Capitals

Finish with 2-2-1 record, believe they're 'getting closer' to 50-win team from last season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Calgary Flames saw an opportunity to end a long road trip with a victory against the Washington Capitals on Sunday and head home with some momentum for the first time this season.

They were in good position until Jakub Vrana broke a tie by knocking in his own rebound on a breakaway with 4:55 left in the second period, propelling the Capitals to a 4-2 win at Capital One Arena.

Playing the second game of a back to back after a 3-0 victory at the Columbus Jackets on Saturday, the Flames didn't have the energy to make another push in the third period and had to settle for a 2-2-1 record on their five-game trip.

Now 8-7-2, the Flames return to Calgary to begin a four-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-A, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV) feeling like they haven't played their best game yet.

But they are gradually working towards it.

"We're getting closer," Calgary coach Bill Peters said. "You look at the trip and we ended up .500 and two of the games, one in overtime and the other one we gave up a power-play goal late, we had leads in both of those games that we lost coming into tonight. So we were in position to win all of them."

Video: Vrana notches hat trick, Capitals honor Nationals

The Flames are looking forward to getting some time at home after being on the road since a 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26. A 2-1 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 29 had them at 6-6-2 before they got a much-needed spark when they rallied in the third period for a 6-5 overtime win against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. They trailed 4-1 in that game after two periods.

Calgary goalie David Rittich followed that up with a 43-save shutout against Columbus on Saturday to string together consecutive victories for the first time this season.

"I think in Nashville in the third period, that was our game," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "That's what we did for a lot of last year, play with that pace. I thought we had that pace [against Columbus], especially early."

But the Flames have yet to resemble the team that went 50-25-7 and finished first in the Western Conference with 107 points last season. In a way, the disappointment of a five-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues to hang over them.

Calgary tied the San Jose Sharks for second in the NHL by scoring 3.52 goals per game last season behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who averaged 3.89 goals. The Flames offense has sputtered so far this season, however; they are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for 22nd in the NHL in averaging 2.71 goals per game.

The loss to the Capitals was the seventh time in their past 12 games the Flames scored two goals or fewer.

Forwards Elias Lindholm (10 goals, five assists), who scored their second goal Sunday, and Matthew Tkachuk (seven goals, eight assists), who assisted on the first one by Andrew Mangiapane, are tied for the Flames lead with 15 points. But Calgary hasn't gotten enough from others.

Video: CGY@WSH: Lindholm scores with superb redirection

Forward Johnny Gaudreau has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) but hasn't scored in 12 games. Center Mikael Backlund has gone seven games without a point and 12 without a goal.

"We still know we have way more to give," Giordano said. "We haven't put together those games where it's just been total domination like last year, but I feel like the speed and moving pucks quick and making plays as a team, a five-man unit is coming, for sure."

When the offense isn't producing, mistakes with details like the Flames made Sunday can be costly, especially against the Capitals, who lead the NHL in averaging 3.94 goals per game and are 8-0-1 in their past nine. Giordano got caught pinching at the left point, leading to a 2-on-1 and Vrana's first goal, which tied it 1-1 at 11:01 of the first period.

The Flames had all five skaters caught up ice on Vrana's go-ahead breakaway goal, which completed his first NHL hat trick. Goalie Cam Talbot allowed two short-side goals, including a backbreaker to Lars Eller from the right circle with Washington on the power play that made it 4-2 at 2:20 of the third period.

"The effort was definitely there," said Talbot, who started for the first time in six games. "I think that after a road trip like this, maybe fatigue sets in a little bit after a hard-fought game again [Saturday] night. But I thought we did a pretty good job of managing the game, and it's just an extra save away from maybe coming back to tie it up."

With a chance to get some much-needed practice time later this week, the Flames said they believe they will be able to clean up some of the areas that have been plaguing them. Although the flight home would have been a happier one with a win Sunday, they said they're confident progress is being made.

"I'd say overall it was a step in the right direction over the trip period," Mangiapane said. "We had a big comeback win there in Nashville and then we carried it over, so I think we've got to keep building off it. A disappointing loss, but I think overall it was a good trip."

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