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FLAMES IN DEFENSIVE POSTURE

GEORGE JOHNSON: Club calls up blueliner Andersson from Stockton after injuries to Hamilton and Stone

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The sight of the vastly influential Dougie Hamilton vanishing down the tunnel, not to return, sent a ripple of concern reverberating around the Scotiabank Saddledome.

When Hamilton was followed in short order by the rock-solid Michael Stone, in some measure of discomfort, concern turned to shock.

Watching the game on TV with a couple Stockton Heat teammates down in northern California, Rasmus Andersson had no premonition that his telephone would soon be ringing.

"I saw both of them leave but I didn't think too much about it,'' admitted the 20-year-old second-round draft pick, who hooked up with the Flames at Calgary International Airport for a charter flight to Winnipeg. "But I guess it was a little serious.

"You don't think too much about (call-ups) when you're down there. You just focus on every day and getting better.

"I was super-excited when I got the call from (assistant GM) Brad Pascall. Everything happened so quick. I just packed my stuff and headed straight to the San Francisco airport to catch a flight up here.

"Obviously I'd love to play - it's everyone dream to make their NHL debut - but I've just got to be ready when I get the opportunity."

Not even a bone-chilling change in weather conditions could dampen Rasmussen's excitement.

"It was plus-20 (celsius) in Stockton when I left,'' he mused. "It's cold here. But that's okay. I don't mind."

On the good news front Friday, Flames' boss Glen Gulutzan seemed optimistic that one of the fallen pair - mostly likely Hamilton - might in fact be available for Saturday's tilt at the MTS Centre against the Winnipeg Jets.

So either one or two defence slots will be filled by either veteran Dennis Wideman or Rasmussen, or both.

"From the beginning of the year to now, we've seen improvements in his game,'' said Heat coach Ryan Huska Friday of the first-year pro. "Really right from the first five-to-10 games, we've used him against top lines, pairing him mainly with Tyler Wotherspoon.

"He thinks and sees the game so very well he's been able to handle that responsibility.

"I know he would be nervous and he'd be excited but I think because of his hockey smarts he'd figure things out fairly quickly.

"I look at it as win-win for our group. For however long he's there, he's coming back feeling a little better about himself than when he left. He's seen what it's like up top, and he's going to have a little more fire - that's my belief - and it's really going to push him to try and get back there.

If Wideman does indeed draw in Saturday, it'll be his first game action since Feb. 18th at Vancouver.

Since then, both Stone and Steve Bartkowski were added to the back end, and the Flames embarked on an eight-game winning streak.

Video: Wideman on potentially drawing back into the lineup

"Obviously everybody wants to play,'' said Wideman. "I don't know if that's (Saturday) but it's my job to be ready as possible if need be.

"The guys are playing really, really well and it's exciting to watch. They've got a good thing going right now. When it's going like that, usually lineups don't change a lot.

"Any time you're sitting there watching, you're always chomping at the bit.

"I don't think I'll play any differently. Hopefully I play a little better than I did in January."

Gulutzan doesn't seem worried.

"He's going to be very motivated. When we spoke when he wasn't in the lineup he knew he had to stay prepared. At the time, we had 20 games left.

"Leading up to the all-star break, he was playing some really solid hockey for us. We're going to ask him to go right back to that.

"We're going to need all hands on deck here and if he figures in we're going to need him to play minutes. And he's more than capable."

Video: Gulutzan on injuries to D-men Stone and Hamilton

Since embarking on their current run, the Flames have been dented for only 15 goals, a third of those in the streak launcher at Bridgestone Arena.

Doing the Rudimentary Math 101, that's 10 allowed in the last seven starts.

It'd been easier to breach Helm's Deep than goaltender Brian Elliott's stronghold of late.  "As a team, that's what you hope for,'' said captain Mark Giordano. "Especially at this time of year, guys are going to be in and out of the lineup, different combinations.

"As long as you stuck to that same structure, you hope you're fine.

"We've come a long way in simplifying our game. Managing the puck has been a big part of it."

That safety net they've set up, the structure that's become second nature, has the Flames believing they could survive the loss of a key piece or two on defence, if need be.

"When you think defence, I think now you look at the forwards,'' said Elliott. "They're coming back. If a puck's turned over, everybody's working hard to get back overtop and we've been able to break up plays before they get to our blueline.

"It allows our D to gap up, and everybody plays a little bigger, a little more confident. You're going more often than not.

"You never want to lose anybody but it's that game plan. But when we can break the puck out with those five-, 10-foot passes … we trying to say 'Get five in the picture every time.' When you look at the video more often than not we have everyone back in the right positions. 

"Doesn't matter who you have out there, that's hard to break."

Video: Elliott on his play and injuries to team's defense

 

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