BY GEORGE JOHNSON, CALGARY HERALD
January 12, 2014
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is held up by his Calgary Flames counterpart, Mark Giordano, during the first period at the Saddledome Saturday night.
Photograph by: Ted Rhodes , Calgary Herald
No scoring chance is too gilt-edged for these guys. Put the puck somewhere in the vicinity of the net and they remind you of Napoleon Dynamite flailing at the tetherball.
Saturday, the franchise record for longest scoreless spell on home ice (186:39) fell as the Calgary Flames were beaten, but not blanked, again, 2-1, by the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins.
They went 196 minutes and 59 seconds before Mikael Backlund ended the prolonged misery at 11:29 of the third period.
The Flames played their hearts out. Again.
And were found wanting. Again.
A familiar litany of problems – squandered opportunities, impotent powerplay, weak goal allowed – plagued them as they slumped to this latest defeat. They now head out on the road for back-to-backers, Monday to Tuesday in Carolina and Nashville.
Battling as ever, Bob Hartley’s crew drew to within a goal at 11:29 of the third, ending the record-setting scoreless stretch at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Mikael Backlund, the best Flame on the night, shrugging off Kris Letang to sizzle a shot over the left shoulder and catching hand of Penguins’ ‘tender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Pens, guilty of surrendering a third-period lead Friday in a 4-3 OT loss to the Edmonton Oilers, found themselves under the kosh the rest of the way.
Still, a lack of finish is what finished the Flames, a depressingly familiar refrain by now.
Calgary’s attacking inadequancy was epitomized by a five-minute shot to the head major issued to Pittsburgh D-man Robert Bortuzzo, who pancaked the captain right in front of the Air Canada sign at the visitors penalty box.
Giordano got up immediately, with his teammates flying in to his aid, and was well enough to fulfill an obligation on Hockey Night in Canada’s After Hours. So everything’s okay there.
“I’ll be honest with you, it happened so quick ... I saw kind of a charging or whatever you want to call it,” said Hartley. “But it was such a flash. The league is looking at everything. To be honest with you, I have much more important things to watch on the video than that hit. The league will look at it and make their own decisions.
“We played hard all game but I felt that once (the hit) happened, we stuck as a team. For me, for my partners, that’s a culture we want to instill here. I liked the reaction from everyone. We were on our toes, we made good decisions and Backs gave us a great goal. I felt like Michael Backlund gave us a quite a game.”
With the opportunity to slice the deficit in half and climb right back into contention, though, the homesteaders failed to register a shot through the first 2:36, before Michael Cammalleri evened the manpower out, cross-checking Brandon Sutter in the head area.
Still, Cammalleri’s release from solitary set up Backlund’s sixth goal of the season.
“It’s a little relief (to score),” admitted Backlund, superb when pitted against Sidney Crosby all evening. “It’s hard when you chase and chase, you get scoring chances and the puck doesn’t go in. It gets in your head a little bit. That’s pretty natural. Once you score one, everybody settles down and feels a little better.”
Calgary outshot the the Eastern Conference leaders 28-26 but was, in the final analysis, of scant consolation.
The Pens doubled their advantage to 2-0 through 40 minutes after another territorially even period. Held shot-less during the evening’s first powerplay - Pittsburgh caught with too many men on the ice - the Flames paid for their lack of conviction, defenceman Matt Niskanen’s searching wrister from near the point sailing through the wickets at 6:42.
Again, Fleury proved a difference-maker, particularly on a shorthanded effort from Mikael Backlund, drifting diagonally across the ice as his mates inexplicably backed off, forcing the Penguins’ netminder to one of the most awkward-looking saves imaginable, using THE BACK OF HIS HEAD (not on purpose, of course).
“I’m not sure it would’ve counted, they might’ve called goaltender interfence,’’ conceded Backlund. “But, yeah, that’s kind of the way it’s been going for us.”
The frustration with the habitual lack of finish, as the locals neared the franchise record for home consecutive scoreless minutes, the fans voicing their displeasure with Calgary’s second limp powerplay of the night.
The shots were 10-6 Flames but that was, in fact, a bit misleading, the Pens twice being denied by goal posts.
Sharp goaltending highlighted an entertaining first, both Berra and Fleury collecting 12 saves apiece. The lone mistake, Berra giving Sochi-bound Chris Kunitz too good a look at the short side, the prolific left winger firing a tracer bullet up high and beyond him at 16:34.
Other than that, flawless stuff from the men stationed between the pipes, with Berra stoning Sid the Kid twice, including a clear-cut breakaway as the NHL’s leading scorer was sprung free by Kunitz in the wake of a Calgary turnover, again demonstrating how quickly the abundantly-gifted Pens can filet you.
Fleury, meanwhile, withstood an early 6-1 Calgary shot advantage, Michael Cammalleri testing him early off a set-up from Lee Stempniak.
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