Sunday, March 7, 2021
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Pivotal stretch will tell us a lot about Flames

Pivotal stretch will tell us a lot about Flames
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At the end of the season, maybe the Calgary Flames will look back to the beating they took at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday evening and see it as a low point.

Ideally, it will be the nadir of their season-long journey. The embarrassing defeat catalyzes their resurgence and leads them to finally become their true, winning selves.

That’s the hope, at least. The alternative is a season that likely ends in bitter disappointment.

Immediately after Wednesday’s lopsided 5-1 letdown, head coach Geoff Ward called the Flames out for their lack of commitment to the little details that go into consistently winning hockey games.

After Thursday afternoon’s practice, the players were all saying the right things.

They’ve said the right things before, though. Their inconsistency has been a source of frustration since the start of the season, and acknowledging that there’s a problem isn’t the same as fixing it.

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Now, though, there’s urgency. Starting Friday at the Scotiabank with the first of a home-and-home against the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames enter a stretch of seven games — in four cities — in 11 nights.

If the Flames can’t find some consistency and put together a winning streak of some sort by the end of this little stretch, they’re not going to like where they find themselves in the North Division.

“I definitely think it’s a pivotal moment,” said Flames winger Milan Lucic. “You look at the standings and you look at what the next seven-game segment means for our team and our season (and) if we’re under .500 or keep playing .500 hockey, we’re going to have to win at a close to .750 or .800 winning-percentage rate to get ourselves in a playoff spot.

“This segment here right now is very pivotal and I think … that’s why we need to live in the moment, live in the present, take it one game at a time. Focus on just winning the period, winning the shift, winning the game and from there you can move on to the next shift.”

Despite all the perceived doom-and-gloom surrounding the Flames right now, it’s worth noting that they’re not actually in all that bad a spot in terms of making the playoffs. Where they expected to be or wanted to be? No. They’re in fifth-place in the North Division and if the season ended today, they wouldn’t technically be heading to the post-season.

With that said, they’re also three points back of second-place and only one behind the Oilers, who sit in the fourth-and-final playoff spot but have played two more games than the Flames.

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They control their own destiny. The frustration comes from the fact that some of the same mistakes keep being made over and over again. In particular, they’ve made a habit of falling behind early.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the Flames’ struggles, but getting off to faster starts over the next seven games would be a good start. How do you do that? Well, without going into specifics Ward explained that focusing on the details of game-preparation was key.

For the Flames head coach, it’s all about details, details, details on this seven-game stretch.

“The easy thing to do is to tie it into numbers, but I’m not going to tie it into numbers,” Ward said. “The (most important) thing for us is finding our game. We feel like if we get to our game and stick to our process the results will look after themselves, but we’ve got to make sure we’re working our process far more diligently and efficiently than we have been.

“If we get to that level where we are working our process and falling in our way and we’ve got our game on the ice, the results look after themselves.

“What I’m really looking for these next couple days and heading into the road trip is that we can get back to our game, put our game on the ice for a full 60 minutes. Let’s start there. Once we get there we can start talking about what we’re going to do points-wise, but right now, until we ante-up in some of those areas it’s a steep hill to climb in terms of trying to get the points at the end.”

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If Wednesday’s tough loss is to be a turning point, Friday’s Battle of Alberta matchup represents a golden opportunity to get things back on track and prove that this ship is not, in fact, sinking.

The opponent alone figures to provide more than enough motivation to really dig in and commit to the details. It’s the Oilers, after all. If the Flames can’t get up for this one, you have to wonder who they can get up for.

“There’s no better opportunity to do that than against your biggest rivals here,” said Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk. “We’re going to get up for this game, it’s going to be impossible not to. Friday night with a back-to-back on Saturday in their place. This is a huge moment in our season for us and I think we have to show one another that we’re going to be ready from the first drop of the puck.

“These next few games will show us a lot and will tell us a lot about ourselves and what we have.”

daustin@postmedia.com

www.twitter.com/DannyAustin_9

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