PREVIEW: Calgary Flames look to build upon strong effort as they host Ottawa Senators

Mar 6, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defensemen Noah Hanifin (55) celebrates after a third period goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

As the Calgary Flames ready to host the Ottawa Senators Sunday night, they have a starting point to build upon under new head coach Darryl Sutter.

Even though the Flames dropped a disappointing 3-2 road clash to the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night, the result came with the kind of effort — especially to start the game — that’s was lacking far too often through the first two dozen games of the season.

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“We had a really good start and it was pretty back and forth after that,” said defenseman Noah Hanifin, who scored his first goal of the season against the Oilers. “It’s a rivalry game and it’s always going to be competitive. It stings as a loss, but we competed. If we play that way, compete that way, we’ll have success more often than not. It’s something to build off.”

For a second straight game after coach Geoff Ward was fired, the Flames won’t have Sutter behind the bench due to the COVID-19 protocols. Assistant Ryan Huska will be in that role and looking for all his team provided in Edmonton — and more. The Flames dominated the opening period but couldn’t maintain the momentum amid Edmonton’s pushback, twice surrendering leads.

“That’s the challenge moving forward,” Huska said. “The effort in the first period was really good. There was an emotional attachment to the game, which is important for us. That’s something we have to work on maintaining for 60 minutes, not just a 20-minute stretch.”

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“I liked the effort we saw from the group,” he added. “There’s some detail areas, when you look at our breakdowns, we’ll have to address.”

The Senators have been awaiting this match since losing a 7-3 clash with the Flames in Calgary on Thursday. They have lost two straight games and three of four outings, and know they must improve their defensive play.

That said, the young Senators have been guilty of over-trying at times, pulling themselves out of position in an attempt to defend and leaving their opponents open in the resulting confusion.

“It’s hard. If you’re trying to make plays at the blueline and it gets turned over and all of a sudden, you’re backchecking and you’re stuck in your own zone and you’re tired,” forward Nick Paul said. “Especially for a younger team, playing that hard, simple way is tough because you want to go, you want to make plays, you want to start right off the bat.”

Defensive positioning was a key focus during Saturday’s practice in anticipation of the clash.

“You don’t want to panic and all of a sudden it’s a major issue. We’ve held Toronto down, we’ve held some (other) teams down,” coach D.J. Smith said. “That’s part of maturing and realizing that some nights when you don’t have it, you stick to your structure and that protects you a little more.

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“We’ve been really good at times. When we don’t have legs and can’t find loose pucks, we haven’t been good. You’ve just got to turn the brain back on and make it hard for other teams to play against you and we did that today (at practice).”

That said, the Senators, who sit last in the North Division, do need better goaltending from Matt Murray. Even if his team is struggling to defend, Murray has not been up to snuff, and been pulled in four of 18 starts, including the last outing.

“We just didn’t play strong in front of him (Thursday),” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “You give teams in the league opportunities, ‘A-plus’ opportunities, like we did, and they’re going to capitalize and they’re going to make you pay. … We need to play better in front of him for sure.”

–Field Level Media