Sports

If Flames aren’t playing 5-on-5, they’re in big trouble vs. Oilers


CALGARY – On any given night, Connor McDavid alone can beat you.

On Friday, the Calgary Flames got a grim reminder there’s another way to lose to the Edmonton Oilers – turn it into a skill contest.

As in, reduce the number of skaters on the ice for either side to open things up.

Both points were driven home in a 5-3 loss that saw Edmonton rebound from an early deficit to score four unanswered goals for the second game in a row to open this Western Conference semifinal.

What kickstarted the Oilers’ scoring binge, as is so often the case, was a McDavid goal for the ages – a product of being left alone 4-on-4 before undressing Jacob Markstrom in close.

It came 61 seconds after Tyler Toffoli put the Flames up 3-1 and 32 seconds after a Leon Draisaitl goal was disallowed due to goalie interference by McDavid.

It lifted the bench, and the rally was on.

“It’s like it didn’t get called back,” said Oilers forward Zach Hyman.

“(McDavid) went right back on the 4-on-4 for whatever it was, 30, 40 seconds later. Got it back and you don’t even have to think about it, right? He’s taking his game to another level and that’s hard to do already. But he’s pushing his own limits. That’s what special players do. He’s leading our team in every aspect. Last game I think he had the most hits on our team. So he’s doing it all. He’s a huge reason why we’re here.-

Here, being tied 1-1 in a series that shifts to Rogers Place with the Oilers now owning home ice advantage.

How quickly things turned, not just from Game 1 to 2, but from Friday’s first period to the second.

And just like the first three games of the Flames series against Dallas, the parade to the penalty box had plenty to do with it.

Give the league’s deadliest power play six man advantages and they’ll generally cash in more than just the Evan Bouchard blast that tied the game 3-3 late in the second.

But give them a chance to shorten the bench with an array of special-team assignments on either side, and the opportunistic Oil can be just as deadly.

“I think we missed a lot of opportunities tonight,” said coach Darryl Sutter.

“I think Markstrom was really, really good for us. I think their individual skill stood out tonight in situations that they scored on. That’s something that is hard to handle, but that’s something that is also not 5-on-5. There was a 4-on-4 goal, a 5-on-4 goal, a 5-on-4 goal for us, a shorthanded goal for them. If you’re not playing five-on-five, that’s definitely to their team’s advantage.”

The Flames know this.

They spoke of it all morning, yet found a way to wade into endless scrums and exchanges that had the most overzealous of officiating crews imaginable disrupting flow with 20 minors.

The first three of the four goals that allowed the Oilers to turn a 3-1 game into a 5-3 win weren’t 5-on-5, punctuated by the game-winner that saw Hyman scamper for a lengthy shorthanded breakaway he snapped bar down midway through the third.

Two minutes later, Leon Draisaitl’s breakaway was finished almost as well.

“I think we took too many penalties, I think we got away from our type of game and started playing their game and when that happens they have guys who can do the type of things that they did,” said Tyler Toffoli, who scored once and had a goal disallowed that appeared to tie it 4-4 before another early whistle negated it.

“We have to find a way to get back to it and play 5-on-5 hockey and take over games.

“It’s playoff hockey, it’s not going to be perfect every single night. Things happen within a game, we have to stay composed and not take penalties and honestly, play our type of hockey. If we stay 5-on-5, I think we’re in a good spot.”

They certainly got to a better spot against Dallas once they figured that out, starting in Game 4.

More discipline is needed if they are going to steal one in Edmonton, where Game 3 goes Sunday.

“We’re not going to have much success if we’re trading chances with them,” said Noah Hanifin, whose club had just as many shots as the Oilers (40-40).

“They’re an opportunistic team and they have some elite, high-end skill that can capitalize on their chances.

“We’ve got to limit that for sure.

“The main thing for us is trying to keep it 5-on-5. When we play 5-on-5 we’re having good starts and we like our game. When we start getting into situations where it’s 4-on-4, it’s not to our advantage. It’s not our game.”

The Oilers know that, which partially explains why Evander Kane spent a portion of his morning availability poking the bear with plenty of talk about his team’s plans to push back against the Flames.

It was indeed a more physical game that saw the Flames outhit the visitors 40-27.

Each team took 10 minors, leaving the Flames 1-for-5 with the man advantage.

“Individual skill-sets, for them, can win hockey games — that was the difference tonight,” said Sutter, who was then asked how his club could do better at staying out of the box.

“Stay out of the box.”



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