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BUCKLE DOWN

Gulutzan says he's confident team can start playing smarter and take less penalties

by ARI YANOVER @NHLFlames / calgaryflames.com

The Flames know they have work to do.

On Thursday, they surrendered six powerplay opportunities to the Carolina Hurricanes. They killed off five of them.

You look at their penalty-kill percentage of 88.6% - fourth best in the NHL - and there's reason for optimism.

Still, over the last three games, the Flames have given the opposition 20 powerplay chances.

"You can't win if you're going to spot somebody six powerplays a night," coach Glen Gulutzan said following practice Friday. "You're not going to win. It's just not happening."

The Flames may be 4-3 right now but their play won't be conducive to long-term success, said the coach.

"Win or lose, if you play the right way, over a long period of time in this league, you will come out on the right side of it," said Gulutzan. "You can fool the league for a while, but eventually it'll put you in its place. And if we don't get going, it's going to put us in our place."

Matthew Tkachuk's two-minute roughing minor as time expired in the second period led to Carolina's game-winning goal early in the third.

After the game, Tkachuk took responsibility for his infraction and blamed himself for the loss. And while Gulutzan wasn't pleased with that particular penalty, he said the winger is one player who has a "bank account," in that he gets some credit for drawing more penalties than he takes.

"With Chucky … he is in the fabric of the game," Gulutzan said. "He is in the trenches of the game. He is in the bowels of the game. And for me, you have to live with some of the penalties. But he draws a lot of penalties. And he draws more than he takes.

"Now, the penalty yesterday? I will sit him for that penalty. And I did yesterday. But the other ones, there's some you have to live with, because he's in there. He's in there. He's not in the quiet, fluffy, fun zones. He's in the tough zones. And I don't mind that. We need that. That's how we're going to ultimately win here. He just needs to make sure he's on the line better than he was yesterday."

Video: Gulutzan gives his blunt assessment on team's issues

Captain Mark Giordano leads his team in shorthanded ice time, just as he did last season. If anyone's familiar with the penalty kill, it's him - and how, over the course of the previous season, the Flames started taking fewer penalties which directly led to second-half success and a playoff berth.

"We addressed it last year," Giordano said. "At the start of the year I think we were in a very similar spot with the number we took.

"It's a mindset, too. You can get it in your head and change your mindset rather than reaching and slashing and stuff like that. We did become a lot better at it."

Matt Stajan has been one of the more frequently used forwards on the penalty-kill. He, too, noted how the Flames started winning more last season when they started taking fewer calls.

"The way we play now, with more of a puck-controlled game, you'd think it would be the opposite," Stajan said. "But it's just been the way it's gone.

"And I think when you're more strong at the bluelines, and you're playing the way we need to, we saw it late last year where we really buckled down in that area, and we started winning games and taking less penalties."

It's that progress over the previous season that has Gulutzan, though admittedly frustrated with his team's play right now, believing they will be able to pull through this rough patch.

"We've been down this road," he said. "Last year, though, that we sat here and thought, 'oh no, they're going to be bad,' and we stayed to the process, and I stayed calm, and we stayed to the process, and we made the playoffs.

"I still believe they have learned, and I think we're going to come out of it a lot quicker than we did a year ago."

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