CALGARY - A lack of goal scoring has been identified as an area of concern for the Calgary Flames and, sure enough, on Wednesday night as the regular season got underway it was an issue.
In dropping its home-opener 4-2 to Vancouver, Calgary squandered an early five-on-three power play, fell behind 3-1 in the second period and were never able to get back to even despite it being a one-goal game right through the third period before a late empty-net goal.
During training camp, Flames coach Bob Hartley and general manager Brad Treliving both expressed concern about whether the team would be able to generate enough offence.
Sean Monahan is the only player on the roster that scored 20 NHL goals last year. His 22 goals as a rookie was second on the team to Mike Cammalleri, who left as an unrestricted free agent in the summer, signing with New Jersey.
Mason Raymond (19) ? who played last year with Toronto, Mikael Backlund (18) and Jiri Hudler (17) are the only players on the Flames roster that reached 15.
The opportunity that slipped away for the Flames was a 63-second two-man advantage less than five minutes into the game. With Kevin Bieksa already in the penalty box, Chris Higgins accidentally flipped the puck over the glass and was sent off for delay of game.
Scoreless at the time, Calgary failed to generate a shot on goal and with that, momentum swung in the direction of the Canucks.
"You don't score on those, you just make your life miserable and especially on a home opener with the fans already on their feet and they're just waiting to light the barn on fire," said Hartley. "Not only did we not score, but after this, I felt we lost the momentum for basically the first 40 minutes."
Flames captain Mark Giordano agreed that was a key moment in the game.
"You have to score on those ones when there's a minute of 5-on-3 time, you have to find a way," Giordano said. "We get the lead there if we score. We have to sharpen up and want the puck and everyone has to want to be the guy that scores a goal."
The Flames did some good things on the night. They were physical and outhit Vancouver 32-16. They were sharp at the face-off circle winning 61 per cent of the draws.
But they couldn't capitalize on the scoresheet when they needed to.
"We have a young team and we're going to learn," Hartley said. "It's too bad because in the third, that's when we played our best hockey but we couldn't get the tying goal."
While the Flames hope to get improved output from Joe Colborne, coming off a 10-goal rookie season, and veteran Curtis Glencross, who missed 44 games last season due injury, the new kid in town that will be counted on to spark the offence is Johnny Gaudreau.
The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner is the lone rookie to open the season with Calgary and with 80 points last year in 40 games at Boston College, offensive is the specialty of the 5-foot-9 left winger.
In his second NHL game and first game on home ice, Gaudreau was not a factor most of the night but as seen in the pre-season, he can turn a game around on his own. With five minutes to go, he had that chance on a nice individual effort.
After stealing the puck, he broke in off the wing and after a neat cut to the inside to evade sliding defenceman Kevin Bieksa, his quick shot attempt from the slot was deflected out of play by the stick of Henrik Sedin.
"I tried getting around the first guy, I tried to get a quick shot and their D stepped up and had his stick on my stick right away," Gaudreau said. "That's something I need to adjust to since it's a faster game and guys are a lot smarter here. It was a nice try but I've got to get better at it."
Gaudreau realizes it's going to take time to adjust to the NHL game after playing the last three seasons at Boston College.
"In college, I feel like if we're in the third period and we're down a goal, I'd get a few more chances to tie the game up but up here, I only have so many chances to tie the game up and tonight I didn't even get a shot."
The result was another close game but a loss, which is familiar territory for the Flames who played in 49 one-goal games last season going 25-17-7. That equalled the previous league record set by Florida in 2010-11. Only New Jersey (50) played in more.