CALGARY, AB -- It starts with starts.
Starts are at focal point of improvement should the Calgary Flames have hopes of skating in late April for a second consecutive season, according to coach Bob Hartley.
“Our starts need to be way better,” Hartley said. “You can tell our conditioning once again is great, is unbelievable, because the third periods are our best periods. But we still could have our third period be the best period, but making sure that we’re playing with a lead. Catching up, sometimes it works. You look at the record of teams down by a goal or a few in the third period … it’s not even close.
“We have to make sure that we find a way. We talked about it this morning. The mental preparation, we will try several things in order to get better starts. Sometimes it’s more mental than anything else.”
The Flames have scored 39 first period goals this season, good for a share of 11th alongside the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks. They’ve also given up 39 first-period goals, 10th most in the NHL alongside the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Through 45 games, Calgary is 12-3-1 when leading after the first period. They are 5-11-0 when down after 20 minutes.
But slow starts out of the gate have plagued the home side more than the statistics dictate.
“That was one of the things we had to address. I think it’s one of the most important things, too,” said Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, fresh off his second consecutive All-Star appearance.
“Our starts have been terrible this year. It’s tough to come back in games when you’re down a goal or two. That’s something that we need to be better at in the next part of the season here.
“I think just play a lot harder than we have in the first. I don’t think it comes down to shooting the puck more or anything like that. Our starts have just been awful, too slow and flat-footed and the other team is jumping on us whether it’s in our house or another rink. We just need to come out a lot harder, I think.”
The Flames return from the All-Star break having lost three consecutive games, and with a 21-24-3 record sit sixth in the Pacific Division, eight points back of the third-place Arizona Coyotes. Calgary is also 11 points back of the Nashville Predators for the second Wild Card entry from the Western Conference.
“We all have to step it up,” Flames defenceman Ladislav Smid said. “We all know what’s at stake. We don’t want to fall behind too much. Teams are getting better. Look at San Jose and Anaheim. They’re making a push for the playoffs. We have to do the same and hopefully at the end of the year we’ll be there.”
“Last year we saw Ottawa did it, too, with the late push. We all know we can make it. We have a good team, good group of guys, and hopefully we can be positive, keep the atmosphere positive and hopefully we’ll be there.”
At 7-14-3, Calgary is the second-worst road team in the league. Seventeen of the remaining 34 games are played away from Scotiabank Saddledome.
Of the 34 games remaining, 25 are against teams within two points of a wild card or divisional playoff spot, too.
“We talked about this this morning. We talk about it almost every day,” Hartley said. “Right now we have (34) games left and we have absolutely zero excuse. We put ourselves in this situation. For whatever reasons … I don’t care. It’s done. It’s over. Now there’s (34) games and we have to make a sprint. I’ve said it. We have to shock the league.
“We have to be basically the best team in the league to get to the playoffs. That’s our goal. That’s our goal. I believe in our players. I believe that they can do it. I challenged them this morning. We all have to be engaged at 100 percent. We can’t have one passenger. We need to be all around that steering wheel and wanting to make an impact, wanting to be the difference.
“I believe that we can.”
FERLAND SET TO RETURN
Forward Micheal Ferland is ready to return.
The 23-year-old winger sustained an upper body injury on Jan. 21 when he collided with Columbus Blue Jackets forward William Karlsson.
Forwards Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris, who both missed the final game before the All-Star break against on Jan. 27, have also been given a clean bill of health.
NOTES: Goaltender Karri Ramo will start Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Jooris and fellow forward Brandon Bollig skated in green ‘extra’ jerseys and are expected to be scratched.