CALGARY – After scoring just 202 goals and missing the playoffs for the third straight year, the Calgary Flames spent the summer trying to re-invent themselves as a more creative and skilled team.
But with two of their three high-profile free-agent signings missing from the lineup in Sunday’s season-opening 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, it looked like not much had changed.
As with last season’s offensive output—third-worst in the NHL and the club’s lowest since the 2004-05 lockout—the Flames had plenty of chances, but little finish.
General manager Jay Feaster inked offensive defenceman Dennis Wideman, along with forwards Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka, in a bid to bolster Calgary’s attack in the off-season.
However, only Wideman was in uniform on Sunday. Cervenka (blood clots) is on injured reserve and his status could become more clear Monday when he visits a hematology specialist in Phoenix.
The 27-year-old, considered by many to be one of the best players not playing in the NHL. He was coming off a superb year in the Kontinental Hockey League with Avangard Omsk, in which he was a first-team all-star, finished fifth in goals (23) in the regular season (after leading the league with 31 in 2010-11), and led the KHL in scoring in the playoffs with 11 goals and 11 assists in 20 games.
Hudler, meanwhile, is on bereavement leave after his father passed away back in the Czech Republic. His absence isn’t expected to be long, but his return date is unknown.
While the newcomers were missed in a game where Calgary outshot San Jose 32-29, no one was using their absence as an excuse in the Flames locker-room.
“Obviously we miss those guys and hopefully they’ll be back in the lineup soon but at the same time, we have to play with what we have,” said centre Mikael Backlund, one of the young players being counted on to contribute more this season. “We have a lot of good skill still, some really great players, we just couldn’t get the puck in tonight.”
Backlund centred a line with rookie Sven Baertschi and Mike Cammalleri and the trio had generated some great chances, especially early.
“Our lineup, as it is, is clearly capable of scoring goals,” said Cammalleri. “We had some wide open nets, had a couple rebound chances, these are goals 90 per cent of the time no matter if it’s Cervenka, Hudler, (Jarome) Iginla, or (Cory) Sarich banging that in. We’ll understand what it was that created those chances and trust the fact that those will start going in.”
Bob Hartley, making his debut as Flames head coach, lamented his club’s missed chances.
“Everything went right in the first period, our skating was unbelievable, our execution was great,” he said. “Maybe we had a couple of shots—(Steve) Begin on the breakaway, Baertschi with basically a wide open net … those situations happen in a game and when you don’t get those easy goals, sometimes it comes back on you.”