Prior to being re-hired for his second tenure with the Calgary Flames in March of 2021, coach Darryl Sutter was mostly retired over the previous four years, tending to his farm of nearly 3,000 acres in Alberta.
But even while bailing hay and tending to horses, Sutter was still a hockey fan. And he paid attention to the only two franchises that have won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in the past two decades during his respite.
“The two teams that I really watched before I came to Calgary (were the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning) because of the way they play and the way they’re coached,” Sutter said to media in Calgary on Tuesday. “A good hockey team. Look at the pedigree. You’ve got Mario, Brian, ‘Hex,’ Mike, Sydney, Malkin, Jeff, Letang.
Franchise icon Mario Lemieux wasn’t on the ice of the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. After all, he’s 57 years old these days.
But the Penguins could have used some help from Lemieux, even if he is a quinquagenarian, in their bumbling 4-1 loss to the Flames.
A squad led on ice by forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter and defenseman Kris Letang — the active players Sutter referred to by their household names — was largely out-classed by the stout Flames over the course of 60 minutes.
And it wasn’t likely a welcome sight to president of hockey operations Brian Burke, general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Mike Sullivan considering roughly 24 hours earlier, they watched the Penguins struggle in a 6-3 road loss to the dynamic Edmonton Oilers approximately three hours to the north.
“It’s disappointing, obviously,” Sullivan told reporters in Calgary. “We don’t want to start the way we started. It’s kind of a carryover from the last game.”
Tuesday’s setback came without the services of second-line left winger Jason Zucker, who was sidelined after he an undisclosed injury in Edmonton. Sullivan labeled Zucker as day-to-day and offered few details.
One detail that has dogged the Penguins consistently this season is surrendering the first goal of a contest. They did that for the fourth time this season (out of seven games) when Flames forward Nazem Kadri scored his third goal of the campaign 14:11 into regulation.
“They obviously knew we played last night,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “They tried to establish that heavy forecheck that they had. I think we could have been a little cleaner coming out of our zone and try to spend more time in the offensive zone.”
Flames forward Dillon Dube beat Penguins forward Ryan Poehling and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on a puck along their own end boards and fed a pass to the left of the cage for linemate Andrew Mangiapane. With Penguins defenseman Jan Rutta vacating the front of the crease to apply pressure, Mangiapane snapped a slick backhand pass to the top of the blue paint for Kadri, who one-touched a forehand shot past the blocker of helpless goaltender Casey DeSmith. Mangiapane and Dube had assists.
Kadri struck again 3:30 later. Penguins rookie forward Sam Poulin, making his NHL debut in place of Zucker, made an offensive zone entry on the left wing but lost the puck almost immediately. Kadri claimed the loose puck in front of his bench and made a quick transition to offense, generating a two-on-one rush with Flames forward Tyler Toffoli against Penguins defenseman Jeff Petry. As Carter made valiant effort to backcheck take away Toffoli as a pass option, Kadri elected to fire a wrister from the right circle past DeSmith’s blocker on the far side. There were no assists.
The Flames went up by a field goal exactly three minutes into the second period with a power-play goal by forward Jonathan Huberdeau, his first of the season. Taking a pass above the left circle of the offensive zone, Huberdeau simply lifted a heavy wrister that beat DeSmith’s blocker on the near side. Toffoli and Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin appeared to screen DeSmith on the sequence. Defenseman Rasmus Andersson and Kadri claimed assists.
Malkin got his team on the scoreboard with his fourth goal on a power-play opportunity at 4:32.
After DeSmith used his right leg to boot out a pass-off-pads tactic from the right wing by Flames forward Mikael Backlund, Malkin picked up the rebound above the left circle and immediately transitioned into an offensive rush by dealing a pass to Poulin across the ice Gaining the offensive zone on the left wing, Poulin centered a pass to the slot for Carter, who fired a low wrister that was rejected by goaltender Jacob Markstrom’s left skate. The rebound deflected to the right circle, where Malkin claimed it and swept in a forehand shot by Markstrom’s left foot on the near side. Carter and Poulin recorded assists.
The Flames restored a three-goal lead at 11:20 when defenseman Michael Stone collected his second goal. After Penguins forward Brock McGinn lost a puck battle on his own end boards, Flames forward Brett Ritchie fed a pass to the right wing wall for linemate Milan Lucic, who then moved it along to the right point for Stone. The defenseman almost immediately golfed a one-timer that beat DeSmith’s glove on the near side. Once again, DeSmith was screened on the sequence, this time by Petry and Flames forward Kevin Rooney. Lucic and Ritchie registered assists.
DeSmith made 31 saves on 35 shots as he said his regulation loss of the season (0-1-1).
• In his NHL debut, Poulin logged 12:17 of ice time on 15 shifts, recorded an assist, two penalties minutes, two shots on three attempts, one blocked shot and was 5 for 10 (50%) on faceoffs.
• Poulin became the 29th player to wear No. 22 for the Penguins. His predecessors:
Paul Andrea, Greg Polis, Bob Kelly, Brian Spencer, Kim Davis, Mike Bullard, Neil Belland, Dwight Mathiasen, Jim McGeough, Chris Joseph, Wayne Van Dorp, Steve Dykstra, Paul Stanton, Rick Tocchet, Norm Maciver, Jason Woolley, Sven Butenschon, Dan LaCouture, Randy Robitaille, Matt Murley, Ric Jackman, Chris Thorburn, Jeff Taffe, Tim Wallace, Matt D’Agostini, Lee Stempniak, Kael Mouillierat, Matt Hunwick
• With Poulin (2019), Malkin (2004), Crosby (2005) and forward Kasperi Kapanen (2014), the Penguins dressed a lineup with four of their own first-round picks for the first time since a 4-1 road loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, March 1, 2017. Crosby, Malkin, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (2003) and defenseman Derrick Pouliot (2012) all skated in that contest for the Penguins.
• Poulin (first round – No. 21 overall) was the second member of the Penguins’ 2019 draft class to play in an NHL contest. He joins forward Valtteri Puustinen (seventh round – No. 203 overall) who played in one game last season.
• The Penguins are now 0-2-1 against Canadian teams this season, including losses to the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.
• In addition to Zucker, forward Jake Guentzel (undisclosed) was scratched for the second consecutive game due to an injury. Rookie defenseman PO Joseph was an apparent healthy scratch.
• With the left-handed Joseph scratched, the Penguins largely deployed right-handed defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on the left side of the third pairing with right-handed Rutta.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .