The Flames head off on a quick trip to the American mid-west, taking on the Blackhawks in Chicago Monday (6pm, Flames PPV, Fan960)
and the Blue Jackets in Columbus Tuesday (5pm, Sportsnet West, Fan960)
Of course it was the Blackhawks who vanquished the Flames in six games during last year’s playoffs, a defeat that remains fresh in the minds of those who went through it.
|The Flames battle the 'Hawks for the first time since last year's playoffs. |
“Chicago was one of the better teams in the league last year, and I’m sure they’re expecting to be there again this year so if we want to be successful in this conference these are the teams we have to beat and it’ll be a really good test for us,” said Eric Nystrom, who has two goals and three points so far this season.
“There was definitely some chippy moments in (last year’s) playoff series with Chicago without a doubt, and some guys don’t forget that. We got some new guys in here, and we’re looking forward to showing them our new team, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to us coming to town.”
Following a tough 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars Friday, this year’s team has plenty of motivation to make a strong showing. Craig Conroy may still sting from last spring, but regardless he expects a turnaround performance form Friday’s loss.
“It’s all about being accountable. We want to play well against (Chicago), but we didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked last game. We want to come out and hopefully have our best game of the year, that’s what we want to do. Come out and every aspect of the game, power-play, penalty kill, forecheck, our defensive zone, everything,” said Conroy.
“We want to have our best game of the year against these guys… for me, I want to win, obviously we want to win and get off on the right foot against a team that we feel is one of the better teams in the west.”
The hockey renaissance underway in the Windy City has not been very enlightening for the Flames, as the United Centre is now established hostile territory for the team, who went winless there last season.
“We’re going to forget about that and remember that they knocked us out of the playoffs and use that as motivation,” said Eric Nystrom.
“They’re one of the better teams in the league, especially last year, so we’re just trying to see how we fare against them.”No fun in Ohio
Any respectable travel agent will tell you that Columbus, Ohio is no vacation destination, and this especially rings true for the Flames, as they went 1-2-1 against the Blue Jackets last season.
One of the up and coming teams in the NHL, the game against the Blue Jackets Tuesday (5pm, Sportsnet West, Fan960)
will be made more difficult, as it falls on the second night of back-to-back games. As the challenges pile up the task may look daunting, but according to Eric Nystrom, games like these are exactly what the Flames need as they work towards achieving their potential.
“(The Blue Jackets are) off to a good start, and they’ve got some good players. Rick Nash is one of the top guys in the league and (Kristian) Huselius always wants to show up against his former team… we’re looking forward to playing these teams because the west is always tight and these are big games for us and big points, and you’ve got to beat the best teams to sit at the top of the standings,” said Nystrom.
“You want to make sure you’re continuing to improve through game 82 and through the playoffs. To win in this league you’ve got to keep getting better and making sure you’re challenging yourself everyday in order to be the best team.”Moss staying homeDavid Moss
had enjoyed a strong start to his season playing on the top line with Jarome Iginla
and Olli Jokinen
, including a two-goal performance in the first round of the Battle of Alberta.
When the lineup’s were announced prior to Friday’s contest against the Dallas Stars Moss was a surprising scratch, and since then the team has been tight-lipped about the forward’s condition.
“No.” Was head coach Brent Sutter’s response when asked if Moss would be heading on the Flames brief roadtrip.
“(Moss is) day to day. It’s upper-body and he’s not available for us in the next couple of days, so he won’t make the trip.”Sarich back on the ice
When the Flames defensive corps became ravaged by injury last spring, Cory Sarich
held the group together despite playing on a broken foot.
A similar injury in the preseason threatened to doom his year from the outset, but Sarich skated in his first full practice with the team Sunday, and is eager to get in on all the fun.
“For trying to get into some kind of shape, you can ride the bike as much as you want, but it’s getting out there and doing it that really brings your legs underneath you,” said Sarich who admits he will be wearing protection.
“I’ve got some guards in there, they’re pretty light, they’re not too bad. I call them the snow shoes, but hopefully they won’t slow a guy down a whole heck of a lot. I mean I don’t have a lot of speed to lose anyways but…” said Sarich.
“There’s not a lot of meat around there anyways, so I’m just doing my best to help it out.”
Having spent a considerable amount of time watching his team so far this campaign, Sarich has been impressed with the team’s performance.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, I like the basis for our team, I like the structure that has been implemented and when we play with it we’re a very effective team,” said Sarich.
“It’s the word around here: ‘consistency’, and were still trying to find our way with that and become consistent and go out there and do it shift after shift… it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Having only really hit the ice full-speed on Saturday, Sarich has not had a lot of time to get up to game-shape yet, and with solid performances by the rest of the Flames D-men, there may be some consideration of letting Sarich heal for longer. But head coach Brent Sutter is well-aware of what Sarich brings on the ice, and wants him contributing as soon as possible.
“(Sarich) looked pretty good. There’s an opportunity there, there’s a chance there, we’ll monitor it and see how it is,” said Sutter.
“Whenever you have someone of that quality, of those standards as a player not in your lineup, you certainly wish he was. Injuries are part of the game, that’s the way it is, and guys get opportunities when other guys are injured and they have to step up, but when Cory’s ready, and we know he’s good to play where he can be effective that’s when he’ll be inserted into our lineup.”McGrattan ready to flatten
Brian McGrattan’s patience is at its' absolute limit. After undergoing shoulder surgery the colossal forward saw limited action and no contact throughout training camp and into the beginning of the regular season. Having just been officially cleared to play, McGrattan is hoping to see some action during the Flames trip to the middle-America.
“The doctor only cleared me last week. I’m hoping it’ll only be a matter of time until I go in. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said McGrattan, who has no concerns about his shoulder going forward.
“I’ve had some pretty physical practices here, and I’ve been taking some hits on my shoulder so it’ll maybe take a couple of shifts to get my feet wet, but once I’m in the can I can just block everything out and just go and play,” said McGrattan.
“Once the doctors cleared me there’s obviously nothing to be worried about, so let’s just get ready to go.”
With David Moss
sidelined, the opportunity to log a few minutes may pop up for McGrattan during the next two games, but the coaches insist this hasn’t been determined yet.
“He’ll be made available for us, there’ll be a decision made tomorrow on the gameday lineup,” said head coach Brent Sutter.Who’s the third wheel?
The Flames coaching staff continues to look for the right player to skate alongside Jarome Iginla
and Olli Jokinen
on the Flames’ first line. David Moss
began the season with the role, but his injury has caused a shuffling of the deck as Brent Sutter looks to find the ideal complement to his devastating duo.
According to Sutter, the partnering can be difficult as there are considerations from both sides. Not only does the applicant have to raise his game, but Iginla and Jokinen have to be accommodating as well.
“When someone goes in that situation we don’t want their play to drop off, they have to raise it up, even to a different level, and those two guys’ play can’t drop off,” said Sutter.
“Top players have to make other players around them better, and those supporting guys have to be rock solid going with them.”
Expect the experiment to continue during the two-game roadtrip and beyond.