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Flames eager to reset on daunting two-game swing

The Flames open back-to-back road games in Chicago on Monday

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- Into the underbelly of the beasts.

The new Madhouse on Madison, the United Centre, with its south side swagger and eardrum-puncturing anthem needs no introduction.

The Scottrade Center at 1401 Clark Ave. in downtown St. Louis may not possess the same ferocious reputation, but it's hardly a place you want to be blundering around in, turning pucks over willy-nilly and giving up odd-man opportunities.

For visiting hockey delegations both destinations should come with mandatory attached Traveller Advisory warnings.

After all, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have combined for 156 regular-season wins at home over the past three seasons.

Yet that's what awaits the Calgary Flames over the next 48 hours.

Yes, back-to-back, yet. Like strolling through the gates of Mordor on a Monday, then Dante's Inferno on Tuesday.

 "Two of the toughest,'' acknowledges a former Hawk, Michael Frolik, "anywhere in the league.

"They'll be in your face. The fans are loud. And our problem right now, turnovers, those two teams are waiting for those. They feed off those.

"We're going to have to be smarter. We're going to have to be better.

"We have no choice."

So daunting, yes. Dangerous, indisputably. But in a crazy sort of way, maybe precisely what the stuttering Flames need regarding sharpening clarity, heightening awareness, unearthing that one pitch-perfect performance to pull them out of this quicksand and back above ground.

"Those two buildings,'' agreed coach Glen Gulutzan, as players and coaches hustled post-practice Sunday to board a charter flight to Illinois, "are buildings you can get embarrassed in.

"I think it's just good for us to get on the road. You wish they weren't back-to-back. You wish you had a little longer, for the team to gel.

"But you've got to make sure your game is up in those buildings and maybe that's what we need right now."

No laissez-faire tolerated here. Be frivolous with the puck and the consequences will be swift, and pitiless.

"I always love to play in Chicago,'' said Frolik. "I've got some good memories there, of course. It's noisy. A special place. A special anthem.

"It pumps the visiting team up, too. I try to always use the noise, the environment, to my advantage. You have to enjoy it, not be intimidated by it.

"I think it'll just be good for us to get on the road. I think the game in Vancouver" -- a 2-1 SO loss -- "was our best this season so far."

The is to get off this loop.

"We're just focused right now on getting this thing stopped,'' explained Gulutzan. "Getting our heels dug in. We're not trying to pull back on the tug-of-war rope right now.

"Just get it stopped.

"We talked this morning about how we stop it and we have to execute that in Chicago.

"I don't think it's a secret that for some teams that they get out on the road, it's nice to get away from all the family and friends and home openers and all that stuff.

"Just go on the road and play.

"Go to their hotel room, get up and have breakfast together and play the games.

"That can help team chemistry as much as anything. And we need that right now."

For Gulutzan, at least at the NHL level, these early-season sufferings are a strange, foreign, and wholly unwelcome experience.

"I know in Dallas we started 11-4 so it was a pretty easy league back then, I thought. This one with all the home games and the volatility of our specialty teams and our game, I haven't had a start like this in the NHL.

"You know what? The guy five years ago would've been in a real panic mode. Because he didn't have any experience in the league.

"But for me, I know how fast the bullets are whizzing by your head, you have to stay the course. It's a long year and you've got to make adaptations, change a few things, but you've gotta find the right spark.

"And it'll come.

"We'll be talking at some point here when it comes.

"But right now it feels like the world's falling in. I don't look at it this way. I feel the pressure like everybody else. You want to get out of it sooner than later but if you panic and start doing a bunch of dumb things and you don't stick with what you believe in, you'll be in real trouble."

At 1-4-1, there's much that needs improvement.

More incisive special team play, for starters. More timely goaltending more nights. And more pop from their stars.

In Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Blues at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames' top two offensive threats, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, both finished an unseemly minus-4.

Video: CGY Recap: Rally falls short against Blues, 6-4

"In this league,'' said Gulutzan, "your best players have to be your best players in order to win. If you're bottom six are your best guys, you're going to struggle.

"They're still finding their groove."

The way out of this mettle-testing stretch isn't, can't be, the responsibility of only one or two individuals, though, he added.

"It's everybody,'' said Gulutzan. "It's the right balance with the coaches -- when you're pushing and when you're helping. When you're demanding, when you're holding accountable … all that stuff has to be timed right.

"And the players, too, have to take a portion of that.

"It's not one or the other. It's both.

"The coaching staff, we've got to do a better job of getting our message across, which is a pretty standard message but then they have to do their job on the ice.

"We're in it together.

"We have a character group of guys. They want it in there. They care. They really care. I've been around locker rooms from years old until 45. I've been around team after team after team, and that's as good a group as I've come across as far as people and character.

"And you win with character."

And so, in search of their groove, the Calgary Flames head out into the underbelly of the beasts.

Chicago, Monday. St. Louis, Tuesday.

Mandatory Traveller Advisory Warnings duly attached.

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