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Flames defence helping stoke improved play

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

They’re skating well; they’re defending very well. They’re defending well as defencemen, but as a group including the forwards, we’ve been much better in the past month and I think it shows in the win column.Bob Hartley

DALLAS, TX -- The best defence, the old cliché rings out, is a good offence.

The Calgary Flames are aware.

With points in 16 straight contests from the blue line, the Flames defence has started to find the sync absent from the first sixth of the season.

“Our blueline, I think it’s the backbone of this hockey club. You look at the way that they performed last year, and the way that they’re performing right now,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley preached. “They’re skating well; they’re defending very well. They’re defending well as defencemen, but as a group including the forwards, we’ve been much better in the past month and I think it shows in the win column.

“We have a nice mix back there. We have size, we have speed, we have skill, we have toughness, and we have the commitment to block shots, guys that can jump in the play. That’s a big part in today’s game. Those guys have been real good for us.”

Real good.

And drastically improved from the first 14 games of the season.

“At the start, it kind of felt like we weren’t on the same wavelength as the forward some games,” said defenceman Kris Russell, who’s Flames are currently riding a season-high six-game winning streak.

“Now we’re playing better offensively and defensively as a group. That’s what we need to continue to do. It comes with hard work and execution.

“Our whole system is based on trust whether it’s a d-man pinching and having one of our forwards stay high, or if we stand up, we know our forwards will go back and get pucks. We’re showing it now. I think communication is a big part of that. I think we’ve been a lot better recently. We need to continue. We need to keep getting better.”

They’re trending in that direction.

Through the first 14 games this year, Calgary’s collective on defence contributed 21 points to the cause offensively. Over the past 16, in which at least one of the group has made it on the scoresheet, the Flames blue line has served up 41 points.

Nearly double the production.

“I think we’re just playing better,” Russell offered. “At the start we weren’t playing the way we needed to play. We needed guys to step up. I think collectively as a group we’re working hard, we’re keeping it simple. It’s funny. You simplify things and things start to open up.

“We were pushing a little too much. We want to be a defence core that jumps up, is in the rush, and I think at the start there we were just looking forward too much, trying to do too much. We sit back a bit, slow things down and it’s really started to open up.”

Russell’s personal splits are dramatic.

His first 14 games yielded one goal, two points and a minus-15 rating. Over his past 13 skates (having missed three because of an upper-body injury), Russell has cobbled together one goal, seven assists and a plus-10 rating.

“Your plus/minus, it’s not the best stat but I was minus-quite-a-bit right off the get-go, that means I’m out for a lot of goals,” Russell said. “I had to clean it up.

“I think collectively as a group we needed to clean it up. We talk a lot amongst each other. We knew we had to be better. We’re pushing each other now. I think we have a really good seven. Anyone can play on any night with anyone. I think that’s when we’re successful, when we’re working as a group.”

Dougie Hamilton’s turn is equally as drastic as Russell’s.

Hamilton’s first 14 games as a member of the Flames was a highly discussed transition that featured two goals, three points and a minus-11 rating. He has one goal and seven points over his past 16 games.

His plus/minus now reads even, too.

“I think it’s nice from where I was to where I am now,” Hamilton said. “At the same time, I don’t think you can really look into plus/minus too much. There’s so many factors that can play into that. It is nice just to be playing better and not getting scored on as much and being on for goals-for.”

Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dennis Wideman have offered up improvements, too, and Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid, splitting the sixth spot, have been steady.

“It seemed to keep snowballing on us. I think when we simplify…and we have a good leadership group in here and we just want to keep getting better and that’s our main goal, is to keep improving,” Russell said. “It’s a process. If we do that we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”

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