Flames seek offensive improvement against Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Calgary Flames conclude a two-game California road trip when they face the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at Honda Center in a matchup of two underachieving Pacific Division teams.

Calgary (18-15-4) dropped their second consecutive game Thursday night, taking a 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose. The defeat marked the first time the Flames fell when leading after two periods (10-0-1). Garnet Hathaway and Mikael Backlund scored for the Flames, and backup goaltender David Rittich made 30 saves.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was pleased with the effort but lamented his team’s inability to create more offense. The Flames have scored two goals or fewer in six of their last seven games, going 2-3-2 in that stretch.

“We played well enough to win,” Gulutzan said of the loss to the Sharks. “It was a good hockey game. We just need to manufacture some extra points in the game so we can hold leads.

“I thought we had some real good looks in overtime. I thought we were prepared to play here tonight. I thought we came out with more jump than they did. We out-chanced them in the first (period). We had the better looks. If we could have gotten a goal on one those other power plays, we would have won this game.”

Rittich was disappointed in the outcome, hoping a get a win in a rare start in place for regular starter Mike Smith.

“I don’t know if I can be happy when we get just one point,” Rittich said. “We played well and had a lot of chances to score in regulation and overtime. The shootout is like a lottery, and it was bad luck for us. I felt great and I know I have to be a little bit better in shootouts.

Anaheim (16-14-8) has been besieged by injuries throughout the season, but the Ducks were buoyed by the return of center Ryan Kesler in their 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Kesler came back a few weeks earlier than his expected return from offseason hip surgery. Though his debut did not feature his usual level of performance (minus-3 rating, 46.2 percent faceoff win percentage, 16:27 ice time), the expectation is that he will round into the defensive force and opportunistic goal-scorer the Ducks need as they battle for playoff position in the Western Conference.

Kesler admitted there was plenty of rust to his game after the Vegas defeat.

“It felt good,” he said. “Obviously a little rusty. Some of my reads were going to probably be a little off, and they were. I think as the game went on, I kind of settled in. Nice to get Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano back together. Get the old line back together, the band back together.”

With Corey Perry likely to play on the Ducks’ next road trip, a fully healthy roster may be just a few weeks away. However, even at full strength, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle takes nothing for granted.

“This doesn’t happen automatic,” Carlyle said. “This is the best league in the world, and anybody can beat anybody on any given night. You have to have your ‘A’ game going to have success.”

“We’ve been fortunate enough to scrape, crawl, scratch to stay relevant with the rest of the group. And we’re in it. We’re close. But now it’s time for our team to take the next step. Now how quickly we can do that, that’s up to us.”

The Flames might not be at full strength Friday. Forward Michael Frolik was hit in the face by the puck in the second period Thursday, and he did not return to action. Gulutzan said he would update Frolik’s condition on Friday.