Last year, the Flames had a shakey October and as the season closed down, they lost the Northwest crown to Vancouver by a mere two points. A single extra win in the first half of the season would have given their first place in the division and dramatically changed their playoff experience.
Head coach Brent Sutter has been impressed with his club's play and while he knows the Flames still need work in some areas of their play, getting the points is still what matters.
"We played hard,” Sutter said. "There’s still areas we need to improve on, obviously. Especially in our own zone and some play in the neutral zone. But you go on the road and you get a big win. It’s huge."
The Flames will play three games this week, including a rematch against their rivals up north, the Edmonton Oilers.
Flames vs. Canadiens, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 7:00 p.m. at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960
The Montreal Canadiens come into the C of Red with the same record as the Flames but with a depleted lineup.
The Canadiens were dealt a major blow during their first game of the season when defenseman Andrei Markov suffered torn tendons, taking him out of action for three to four months.
"It's an emotional shock to our players, but it's also an opportunity for someone else to step up," head coach Jacques Martin said earlier in the week. "No doubt Andrei is our top player, but now we have to ask our three pairs to step up and do the job."
Former Flame Roman Hamrlik is expected to take Markov’s spot on the number one unit but the blueline hasn’t been stable since Markov’s exit. Goaltender Carey Price has faced 81 shots in Montreal’s first two games.
Price has been under the microscope after having a so-so season last year and he’s been nothing but impressive. While he’s happy to be back in top form, he doesn’t think his play last campaign was mediocre.
"I think it was a pretty good season, but it was a tough second half and people remember the second half," he said when asked about his play last year.
Another former Flame will be making his return to Calgary since leaving as an unrestricted free agent over the summer. Sniper Mike Cammalleri has been everything the Canadiens wanted when they signed the 27 year-old to a five-year deal. He’s collected two assists in his first two games with the Habs and has meshed well with whoever he’s on a line with.
Calgary is the first stop on the Canadiens three-game western road trip. They have yet to play a home game and won’t make it back to Montreal until Oct. 15.
The last time Montreal visited Calgary was Feb. 9, 2009 when the Flames blitzed them 6-2.
Flames vs. Oilers, Thursday, Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m. at Rexall Place, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960
The Edmonton Oilers won’t be a happy crew when the Flames make their way back to Rexall Place. After tying the game on Saturday night, the Oilers basically handed the Flames the win when newly acquired goaltender Nikolai Khabibulan fanned on an attempt to clear the puck, putting it right on a charging David Moss’s stick.
|Nikolai Khabibulin |
"I was just trying to put some pressure on him to try and force a turnover," Moss said. "He fanned on it and I was lucky to get a stick on it. I've never scored a goal like that. Most of my goals are not highlight reel worthy."
Khabibulan was in a state of shock after the game.
“It’s always a judgment call. I have to see what’s better — to come out and play it, or, leave it for a defenseman. If I know I can get to the puck first, I’ll go out and play it ... I can’t believe what happened.”
There’s no doubt he has an axe to grind come Thursday night so the Flames will have to be mindful of that.
Despite Khabibulan’s gaffe, the Oilers played a gritty game that saw them dictate the play for most of the third period and outshot the Flames 34-21. One of the key players for Edmonton was Sam Gagner, who made the most of his ice time by scoring the tying goal in the third frame.
After suffering from the “sophomore slump”, Gagner came into the season trying to prove himself to the coaching staff. While he wasn’t happy with the score of the last Battle of Alberta matchup, he was impressed with his club’s overall play.
“We’ve been focusing in on the process in here, not so much the result, and we feel if we’re doing the right things over an 82-game schedule, we’re going to win those games more often than not,” said Gagner.
Dustin Penner was another player who shone for the Oilers on Saturday. The big winger notched a goal and an assist in the loss and was a physical presence all over the ice. He was in Robyn Regehr’s face most the night and even managed to throw the tough defenseman to the ice on more than one occasion.
This is the second of three games the two teams will play against each other this month.
Flames vs. Stars, Friday, Oct. 9, 7:00 p.m. at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Rogers Sportsnet West & The FAN 960
The Dallas Stars may have lost their season opener on Saturday night but they proved to be a resilient, pesky bunch to play against. After falling behind 2-0, the Stars battled back against the Predators and forced a shootout.
"Of course, you want a different outcome and you want a win, but it was a good start," said Mike Ribeiro. "We were down 2-0, but we never gave up. I thought we played the system and we got a lot of chances. Now, we just have to score goals."
|James Neal |
Those chances are something the Flames blueline will need to be aware of. The Stars managed to put 40 shots on net Saturday night with many of them being excellent scoring chances.
"We could have won," Brenden Morrow said. "We had enough chances."
A player who registered five shots on net and potted the Stars two goals was James Neal. The 22 year-old is coming off an outstanding rookie campaign that saw him score 24 goals in 77 games.
Stars goaltender Marty Turco seemed tentative to start his first game of the regular season but settled in as the game went on. He made some key saves that held Dallas in the game and gave his club a legimate shot at winning.
"I thought we played pretty well," he said. "We've got a talented group of forwards that took advantage of some turnovers and created some great chances. There are a lot of positives we can take out of this game."
The Stars will be stopping in Edmonton before heading to Calgary. They’re looking forward to their western road swing and see it as a positive trip.
"We learned a lot, and now we have to improve on what we learned," Ribeiro said. "This is a good opportunity for us to get out on the road and just be with the guys. I think it's a good first step."