The Calgary Flames hope the combination of being back home and having two days’ rest is the elixir for what ails them, beginning with Thursday’s clash with the Ottawa Senators.
After a busy stretch — 14 road games over their past 18, which ended with a disappointing 2-3-1 road trip — the Flames have a home-heavy slate with nine of their next 14 tilts at the Saddledome.
The Flames will receive reinforcements as early as Thursday’s clash. Forward Derek Ryan will return after missing the last 13 games due to a broken finger, while No. 1 goaltender Jacob Markstrom is coming back after missing five games because of an upper-body injury.
Markstrom is chomping at the bit.
“It sucks not being out there, batting with the team,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “When we’re not playing our best and guys are battling, you want to be out there with them and get us out of this slump.”
This will be Calgary’s fourth straight clash with the Senators. Ottawa won two of the first three, including a 5-1 decision on Monday, which has Calgary coach Geoff Ward especially under the microscope. The calls for Ward to be fired aren’t kosher with veteran Milan Lucic.
“It’s the same players, same coaching staff as last year when he took over and we bought into what he was trying to get us to do, and it seemed to work for us,” Lucic said. “We became one of the hardest teams to play against from December on and into the bubble.
“For whatever reason, we’ve gotten away from that. … It’s easy to point the finger at him, but there are more than enough people in this organization that need to look in the mirror before they can point it at him.”
The Senators arrive in Calgary after a 3-1 defeat to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday that kicked off a six-game road trip. Even including the Montreal loss, Ottawa has won four of its last six games.
“Overall, I think our team is trending in the right direction,” said forward Connor Brown. “You can’t win every night in this league. You give up a couple of power-play goals, those are the ones. … Special teams are important but five-on-five, I liked our game (in Montreal).”
The rebuilding Senators have certainly been a tough team to beat of late, in big part because of their young talent. Rookie Tim Stutzle — the third overall pick in the 2020 draft — was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for February after recording 10 points in 14 games, and they’re being led in scoring by a pair of third-year pros in Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, who is riding a seven-game point streak in which he’s collected seven goals and four assists. Batherson scored four goals in the three previous games versus the Flames.
“He’s dangerous every time he’s out there,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “He’s making plays, he’s getting better defensively, he’s blocking shots. He’s turning into a really good NHL player and one that I believe is going to be a good player for a long time for this team.”
Ottawa is expecting forward Ryan Dzingel, acquired via trade last month from the Carolina Hurricanes, to play during this trip. Dzingel collected two goals and two assists in 11 games with Carolina before the deal.
On the flip side, veteran Derek Stepan will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery. Stepan, who struggled to start the season but was finding a groove, is due to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
–Field Level Media