The Calgary Flames are smack dab in the middle of their toughest stretch of hockey.
It’s a kind of adversity that this particular group of players hasn’t faced before, really, apart from the latter half of the 2018-19 season which carried over into their first-round playoff exit.
It’s also the kind of adversity that provokes change, shake-ups, trades, coaching changes, management shifts — anything to snap a team out of a funk.
The Flames are at a crossroads.
Five straight losses. An anemic first (and second) line. Their failure to get any type of a lead or traction during this slide, having trailed for 703:36 this season. Injuries.
And they’re about to head on the road for another massive swing east, starting with the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Thursday (6 p.m., MT, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet 960) and a stretch of four games in seven nights.
Things are about to get better. Or worse.
“You can worry all you want,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters, when asked if the public should be panicking over their current downward spiral. “But we gotta dig in. We’ve gotta put our workboots on and work our way out of this. We got ourselves into it. Now, we’ve gotta get ourselves out. There’s nobody feeling sorry for you. There’s nobody going to make it easy for you when you’re down.
“I’m sure phone calls are coming in from Tree’s friends, trying to help him out, right? That’s the way it is in this business. We know how it works. We just have to dig in.”
Digging in is what they did for the first part of the 2018-19 campaign that produced 50 wins and 107 points. The legwork was done mostly in the first half of the season. It was a different story after the NHL’s All-Star break as the Flames went 1-3-2 immediately after (before winning seven straight), flailed through a four-game losing streak, and sputtered to the finish line.
“We rolled through the regular season pretty smooth last year,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “And then, at the end, I didn’t think we were great in the last part of the regular season and in the playoffs. Hopefully this year, it’s the complete opposite and we face our adversity now and we roll into the second half and into playoffs.”
The Flames skated on Wednesday at WinSport in an upbeat and brief practice. Wallowing in their own misery doesn’t help their situation and there were a few slivers of optimism in Tuesday’s game.
The blemishes were obvious: a 3-2 loss to the visiting Colorado Avalanche, Johnny Gaudreau’s stat-line (a measly minus-2 and zero points) and the fact Sean Monahan also didn’t find the scoresheet to the fact the Flames surrendered the first and second goals (again).
But the Flames were able to get on the board which they hadn’t done for two straight games and a whopping 167:44 and out-shot the visitors 33-26.
It’s the glass-half-full approach and, right now, the Flames are trying to do everything they can to stay positive.
“That’s all we can do right now — use (Tuesday’s game) as a building block,” Ryan said. “Use it as a way to, when you come out of the other side, we’re a tighter group and know we can get through some adversity. I think maybe last regular season, we didn’t go through enough adversity. So, maybe you could talk about this is some adversity to build on and realize this is not going to come easy. Expectations are higher this year; we have that in the dressing room, as well.”
The urgency has to be there.
Need more proof? Just take a look at their place in the 2019-20 standings. At 10-11-3, they’re eight points behind the Edmonton Oilers — who lead the Pacific Division — and are sitting out of the playoff picture at ninth in the Western Conference.
“The only way we’re going to get out of this funk and get wins is when we figure out that the work is the most important thing and the defensive play and everything else will fall into place,” Giordano said. “But we have to get those details back. (Tuesday) I thought our emotions were there, I thought our work ethic was there. But the little details and the little breakdowns that give them really easy goals are the things we have to clean up.
“In these losing streaks, what usually happens is you start playing better before you get the results. Hopefully, that’s the case. I thought we did that (Tuesday) and hopefully, we can turn this around quick and get some wins.”
The pulse, currently, is somewhere between frustrated and trying to stay positive.
“It’s not like we’re sitting around moping, hoping that it just magically changes,” Peters said. “We’re going to put the work in order to have it change and we need everybody on board for that to happen.”
That includes more players hating to lose.
“At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and you’ve gotta be sick of it,” Peters added. “Hopefully we’re getting to that point.”
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
After Tuesday’s game, Bill Peters singled out the line of Derek Ryan, Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube — a trio that, for a second straight contest, was the most dominant of all of the Calgary Flames forwards.
Mark Giordano can see why.
“There’s no secret to what they’re doing,” said the Flames captain. “They’re working really hard. They’re holding on to pucks in the o-zone and they’re chipping them in and going and getting them. For the rest of us, as a team, we have to simplify and look at them as an example and get back to work. You’re not going to out-skill anyone in this league, everyone works so hard.
“It has to be the No. 1 thing.”
To recap, the terrific trio had been put together ahead of Sunday’s game at Vegas, finished the night even and were each plus-one on Tuesday. Against the Golden Knights, the line combined for seven of the team’s 34 shots and 12 of 33 on Tuesday. Ryan scored, Lucic led the team with six and had three hits, while Dube added three attempts.
The line was intact during Wednesday’s skate before the Flames traveled to St. Louis.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019