Calgary Flames alternate captain Matthew Tkachuk delivered an impassioned soliloquy on the Saturday afternoon of a Hockey Night in Canada clash with the Edmonton Oilers.
“It’s time for us to get going. Enough is enough,” Tkachuk told a Zoom call with reporters. “This is a huge, huge moment in our season, this game tonight. We have to be ready right now. I think we will be.”
Turns out, the Flames were not ready for a game that could very well define their season and for all the wrong reasons. Connor McDavid collected a natural hat trick and two assists in a 7-1 show of dominance by the Edmonton Oilers
“That sucked,” Tkachuk said, running a hand through his mop of curls in exasperation. “Let’s call a spade a spade here. That was probably one of the toughest moments since I’ve been here. Just the way that it went, the way things are going.
“Things snowballed. They got out of hand pretty quickly.”
Did they ever for a Flames team that started the season with designs on one of the top spots in the NHL’s North Division.
Optimism abounds in the Alberta capital where the second-place Oilers are 9-2 in the last 11 games. Criticized for allegedly lacking offensive depth, Edmonton’s third and fourth lines are chipping in with timely goals.
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At age 26, defenceman Darnell Nurse has matured into a minute-munching stalwart on the back end. New addition Tyson Barrie gives the Oilers an exceptional power-play quarterback. And Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, finally looks like a legitimate top-six forward on a line with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“It’s still early on in the year,” McDavid said. “There’s lots of hockey left. We’re playing well and we need to keep winning games.”
The Flames are riding a three-game losing streak, and they’re off to Toronto to play Monday and Wednesday against the league-leading Maple Leafs.
“We need to get back to playing the way we know we can,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “It starts individually. You have to look at yourself and get your game going, and then the team will get going as well.”
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Jacob Markstrom concealed many of the Flames’ flaws through the first quarter season. Now, the veteran goaltender looks tired and discombobulated.
Calgary’s prize free-agent signing surrendered five goals on 15 shots Saturday before receiving the mercy hook in favour of David Rittich.
“I guess my one thought is I feel terrible for our goalies,” Tkachuk said. “They come in and they battle every practice, every game.
“If it wasn’t for them right now, who knows where we’d be in the standings. We’d be pretty close to the bottom.”
“Realistically, it’s a make-or-break road trip for our team the way things are going and not a whole lot of games left,” Tkachuk said. “You get behind the eight ball it’s hard to make up ground with less than 40 games left.”
On Saturday, the Flames outshot the Oilers 44-24. Tkachuk led the way with an assist on Calgary’s lone goal by Andrew Mangiapane, six hits and seven shots.
But the Flames simply can’t seem to overcome untimely miscues, maddening inconsistency and shaky starts. Case in point: they’ve surrendered the first goal this season in 12-of-18 games.
“The gaffes we give up are big ones and come at inopportune times,” said Calgary head coach Geoff Ward. “It’s fixable. It’s all fixable. but we’ve got to put our minds to it and get going here.”
Time is running out.
Toronto, and Auston Matthews, await.