EDMONTON – It’s up to the league to decide if Rasmus Andersson will pay a higher price for what many saw as a headbutt on Kailer Yamamoto.
What isn’t up for debate is that the defender’s overzealousness played a significant role in the Flames’ (latest) opening night demise.
Indeed, a significant price was already paid, as the double minor Andersson earned after reacting to Yamamoto’s bump into Jacob Markstrom led to the first of two power play goals by, you guessed it, Connor McDavid.
On a night the Flames otherwise deserved plenty of credit for, it was McDavid’s third career hat trick against the Flames that was the difference.
However, when your franchise is on a run that has seen it lose 18 of 19 season openers, including 12 in a row, tough breaks tend to be the norm.
Fact is, you make your own breaks when you overreact like Andersson did.
In a game led 1-0 by the host Oilers late in the first period, Andersson took exception to Yamamoto’s late bump on Markstrom, throwing an elbow to the forward’s head before pursuing the exchange into the corner.
Intentional or not, Andersson appeared to lead with his head as he rammed the diminutive forward into the boards, before throwing several punches. The officials missed the cranial contact, dishing Andersson elbowing and roughing penalties.
The second infraction was what led to McDavid’s opening salvo, a one-timed roof job outdone only by his second, one-timed beauty.
Playing in front of a raucous, packed house for the first time in 18 months, it’s understandable for players to get a little too amped up, especially against bitter rivals.
But, headbutt or not, Andersson went too far, which was immediately evident with an attempt to fight the 5-foot-8, 153-pound winger.
“That’s probably right,” said Sutter when asked if perhaps his player got a little caught up in the moment, given the emotion of the occasion.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s something we talked about, being stronger around our goalie this year. Last year we were not.”
Sutter has long made it clear his goal is to ensure his team is harder to play against, which means penalties for over-aggressiveness are to be expected.
Best that they don’t come against a team with the world’s greatest power play, thanks to a lad who now has 26 goals in 31 provincial battles.
“I thought 5-on-5 we were pretty strong and did a lot of things we wanted to do,” said Sutter, whose team was every bit as good as the Oilers in a game decided by two McDavid missiles.
“Probably a couple of penalties – (Andersson’s) double minor and (Milan Lucic’s) tripping penalty – they scored on both of them, were momentum shifts. We’ve got to eliminate those, for sure.”
And so, the Flames opening night futility record extends to 12 games, just one off the major pro sports low mark held by the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Browns.
It’s likely another streak will be extended, as an expected Andersson suspension would force the Flames to play its second game in a row without a player banned by the league.
Blake Coleman missed Saturday’s opener following a pre-season boarding suspension.
Coleman will be in the lineup for Monday’s home opener against Anaheim.
Andersson likely won’t.
Sutter said he didn’t see the head-to-head contact.
Dave Tippett did.
“I’m sure the league will look at it,” said the Oilers coach.
“I looked at it. To me, it’s a headbutt, but the league will look at it. It is what it is.”
Andersson was not made available by the Flames after the game.
“You never want to be a guy down against these guys,” said Andrew Mangiapane, whose club killed two of four penalties in an entertaining game that saw the visitors outshoot Edmonton 47-32.
“Obviously you’ve got to manage your emotions, play between the whistles and everything after, let it be.”
After the evening opened with a rousing version of the national anthem sung loudly by the fans who entered the game centre stage, the delicious normalcy of hearing boos rain down on Matthew Tkachuk, the “Loooooch” bellowing and the “Calgary Sucks” chants provided the backdrop for a charged up atmosphere hockey had so dearly missed.
Down 3-0 early in the second period, the Flames tenacious forecheck was rewarded when Mangiapane cashed in his own rebound midway through the game.
An Elias Lindholm power-play strike early in the third appeared to set the stage for a dramatic finish, until Jesse Puljujarvi ended that possibility 26 seconds later.
McDavid’s empty netter capped a game in which he scored his ninth game-winner in 31 games against Calgary.
In Edmonton, No. 97 is understandably the talk of the town once again.
In Calgary, Andersson’s fate will be the topic du jour.