They are only a couple of games beyond the one-quarter mark of the season, but the Calgary Flames are well aware they’re at a tipping point.
Coming off a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday — and entering a set of games against the Edmonton Oilers beginning Friday at home — the Flames know full well their recent performances won’t cut it.
“It’s a pivotal moment (when) you look at the standings and look at what the next seven-game segment means for our season,” forward Milan Lucic said on Thursday.
The Flames split a series of four games with the Canucks but can’t fool themselves. They were outplayed in all four contests, even the two they won, and were guilty of horrible first periods.
Coach Geoff Ward rightfully had some choice words for his charges.
“We’ve been talking about that for a while now,” Ward said of his team’s inconsistent play and shoddy starts. “It’s time to put this to bed, take charge and take control of what we can. We certainly can control the way we start. We certainly can control how we pay attention to details, how hard we compete, how much we care. All those things are certainly within our control. It’s time for us to start giving a (expletive) about it.”
Curiously, the Flames had a chance to win all those games. Even in their last outing, they trailed 2-1 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period. The sluggish starts — which have led them to surrendering the first goal in 10 of 16 games and having been outscored 17-10 in first periods — has become a bone of contention.
“This is a huge moment in our season for us,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “And I think we have to show to one another that we’re going to be ready from the first drop of the puck.”
The Oilers, meanwhile, are rolling. They have won seven of their last nine, the latest a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. Edmonton is three points ahead of the Flames — albeit with two more games played — and cognizant of the opportunity to create space between the North Division rivals.
“These games are huge.” forward Kailer Yamamoto said. “Every game we play is huge, that’s the mindset. I’m really looking forward to them. They’re going to be fun.”
Thanks to their success, the Oilers are having plenty of fun. The last game saw star Connor McDavid reach the 500-point mark for his career in his 369th game, which tied him with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby for the eighth-fastest player in league history to reach that mark.
“It’s a little milestone, a little thing along the way here, which is nice,” McDavid said. “To feel some of the reaction from my teammates and friends and family is always special. I really appreciate the support.”
His teammates were more excited: “We talk enough about his on-ice performances and the way he plays, but I think what we’re all most impressed by is the way he handles himself off the ice,” Leon Draisaitl said. “He’s such a humble kid and someone you can learn a lot from. We’re very lucky, very fortunate to have a guy like that as our leader.”
That said, wins are of bigger importance to the Oilers, and their most recent victory has them feeling they’re on track, especially after dropping the previous clash to the Jets.
“To get back in there and kind of rebound and have a good one and get a win was obviously nice,” goalie Mike Smith said. “Anytime you can bounce back after a game like we had last time, we’re thrilled. You can’t lose two games to the same team in the same week with the standings the way they are.”
–Field Level Media