Having dropped two straight games for the first time since mid-January, the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames head into their Saturday home clash against the St. Louis Blues looking for a spark.
A possible prelude to the intensity the Flames (40-18-9, 89 points) expect for the clash may have emerged in Friday’s practice. Veterans Blake Coleman and Erik Gudbranson got into a heated battle that required teammates to separate them.
Such scenes are more common over the course of a season than people expect, but to the Flames, it was a sign of players amping up their emotions before facing the Blues (37-20-10, 84 points).
“It’s good,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s a contact sport. We need some more guys like that. Those two guys that were banging each other around? Those are two bangers, right? We need some of them guys that are pillow-fighting to do a little bit of that.”
The Flames, who have a five-point lead on the second-place Los Angeles Kings and six-point edge on the third-place Edmonton Oilers in the division standings, expect better of themselves following their latest outing.
En route to a 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Thursday, the Flames were guilty of a slow start. They allowed the visitors — who played the night before — to dictate the pace of play, and then Calgary relinquished a third-period lead.
It was completely off script from the game plan. Coleman, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, and a rugged veteran such as Gudbranson elevating their battle level in practice is a lesson to the rest of the team.
“You practice like you play,” said Flames forward Milan Lucic, who noted his team’s pace of play had fallen the past couple of games. “So, if you’re intense in practice, you’re intense in games. The good teams have that. The main thing is just bring that same intensity (Saturday).”
The Blues arrive after having a modest two-game winning streak end in a wild 6-5 overtime loss to the host Edmonton Oilers on Friday. St. Louis trailed 4-1 before the 14-minute mark before clawing back to force overtime, using a pair of third-period goals to complete the comeback.
Looking at the glass as being half-full, St. Louis gained a much-needed point. But seeing things from a half-empty perspective, surrendering four goals in the opening period is a big problem for a team that has surrendered the first goal in seven of the past eight contests.
Blues coach Craig Berube said in no uncertain terms he expects slumping goalie Jordan Binnington to find his game.
“We need saves,” Berube said when asked what went wrong in the opening frame.
The plan was for Binnington to play in Edmonton and Ville Husso to face the Flames. However, Husso came on in relief for the last two-plus periods against the Oilers and may be forced to play again despite being the more fatigued netminder.
Staying with the theme of how things look depending on your perspective, the Blues are on a three-game point streak (2-0-1) but have only three wins in their last nine games (3-3-3).
St. Louis is in danger of falling into the Western Conference wild-card playoff battle. The Blues currently sit third in the Central Division, but the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars have made up ground the last few weeks.
The veteran-filled Blues are trying to remain positive.
“Not the start we wanted … it was a good job fighting back,” defenseman Colton Parayko said of the Friday defeat. “It’s good point to get after being down 4-1.”
–Field Level Media