Flames might have hit rock bottom vs. Senators, right after Canadiens did

Flames might have hit rock bottom vs. Senators, right after Canadiens did
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If you believe that frustrating losses to the Senators served as the last straw for Claude Julien in Montreal, then you’d have to think that Flames head coach Geoff Ward is sweating it after Thursday. From certain angles, the Flames’ post-Senators-plight looks an awful lot worse than what the Habs were staring down earlier this week.

It’s starting to feel like losses to the Senators might serve as other, more ambitious Canadian (North Division) teams’ “rock bottom” moments. After all, losing 6-1 to the Senators had to raise some eyebrows among Flames fans.

Flames reach new low in 6-1 loss to Senators

It’s tempting to describe Erik Brannstrom’s near-center-ice goal against David Rittich as a metaphor for the Flames’ frustrating 2020-21 season.

Then again, maybe the real Flames symbol was Rittich bashing his head in frustration after being pulled. You be the judge:

Hey, when the Canadiens lost to the Senators, at least it was close. Those past two defeats came via overtime and a shootout. (Allows Habs fans to also vent about the goal review controversies.)

The Flames couldn’t make that argument following Thursday’s 6-1 loss to the Senators.

Now, the reflex might be to explain that sometimes games get away from you. That’s the way the puck bounces, right?

But this loss instead feels like the worst chapter in a book of recent Flames failures. Even before this embarrassing Flames loss to the Senators, Kent Wilson pointed out a longer stretch that carried quite the stench:

There are many things that were remarkable about the Canadiens firing Claude Julien. One was that, through all of that teeth-gnashing, the Canadiens currently sit in playoff position (9-5-4 heading into Thursday’s game against the Jets).

At 9-10-2, the Flames have less standings points (20 to Montreal’s 22) despite playing in more games (21 to Montreal’s 19). Even if the Habs lose in regulation on Thursday, Calgary’s outlook really only improves by a baby step.

Circling back to reflexes, it might be tempting to preach calm. Even great NHL teams can hit dry spells. In an exciting-but-flawed Canadian North Division, you really might only need to be good.

Is a short window even smaller than expected?

But the Flames also don’t have all the time in the world. Mark Giordano is already 37 years old. Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk all need new contracts after 2021-22.

With that in mind, it seemed like the Flames’ window, beyond the Tkachuks of the world, was for two years. But that was under the assumption that Calgary would make two at-least-semi-credible runs at a Stanley Cup.

What happens if this expensive team just doesn’t have it this year? Should that cost Geoff Ward his job, and possibly soon? Should the Flames retool on the fly by punting this season? Might this prompt the risky decision to trade Gaudreau and/or Sean Monahan?

These are uncomfortable questions. Maybe they’re downright unfair.

Yet, with only two wins in their last eight games, and playoff hopes fading, the Flames have to do some soul-searching; losing to the Senators like this can do that to you.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.