Right now we’ve only had a few tests. We’re not moving up to the 6th grade right away. We’re still in 5th grade. We have to keep going. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- The reward for downing the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in a shootout Tuesday night? The option.
Fourteen skaters plus goaltenders Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller hit the ice Wednesday in an optional skate off the heels of a win over the Ducks, a third period comeback orchestrated by a single from Jiri Hudler and a pair of one-timers off the stick of Dennis Wideman.
“All the guys we didn’t skate are the guys who logged tons of minutes [Tuesday],” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “We have a good schedule but at the same time all of our guys worked so hard that sometimes you have to give them a break. We had a good meeting this morning. We had those guys on the ice and the rest of the team is in the gym.”
The dramatic victory coming off the stick of Sean Monahan’s shootout winner earned the Flames an NHL-leading four wins when trailing after two periods. A trio of goals in the third pushed Calgary’s total to 27 in the frame, also an NHL best.
Confidence is brewing regardless of the score after 40 minutes.
“It’s character,” said Hartley, whose Flames have won three straight, four of their past five and seven of their past nine games. “We were sitting in the office and not that we listen to what’s being said in the locker room but at the same time you can hear the leaders in there. There were real good vibes. It was positive in there. Now that we’ve done it a few times we have the sense that we can do it again and obviously we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation.”
The confidence has given Calgary its third consecutive win on the five-game homestand to move into second place in the Pacific Division. The Flames trail the Ducks by just one point for both the Pacific Division and Western Conference lead.
Calgary’s efforts also have them sitting sixth overall in the National Hockey League standings after 20 games.
“The passing grade of the NHL is to be a playoff team,” Hartley said. “Right now we’ve only had a few tests. We’re not moving up to the 6th grade right away. We’re still in 5th grade. We have to keep going. There’s lots of time, but I like the body language of the team, I like the way we practice, I like the way we prepare. We’re fortunate. We coach a great bunch of guys and we have great leadership and it shows.”
The Ducks were one test. They’ll sharpen their pencils again in welcoming the Chicago Blackhawks, who lost 2-1 to the Flames in overtime on Oct. 15 despite launching 50 shots at goaltender Jonas Hiller.
“Can’t expect much less than last time,” defenceman Deryk Engelland said. “I think we’ve got to be a lot better than we were last time. They’re highly skilled, a good team. Obviously they’ve been to the Finals and won the Cups and stuff. I think it’s another good measuring stick for our team.”
Though the Blackhawks are in the middle of the pack at in the Central Division and trail the Flames in the standings, there’s plenty of reason to use them as a measuring stick. With two Stanley Cup titles in the past five seasons and three conference finals appearances in the same span, Chicago is amongst the elite in the West.
But Hartley insisted he’s more focused on maintaining his Flames and less concerned with the visiting club.
“I don’t go crazy on other teams,” Hartley said. “I prepare my team. We know the tendencies. We know what to do. Sometimes we’re going to do minor adjustments. I feel that as a coach, as a business person, if you constantly adjust to your competition maybe you don’t believe in what you’re doing. For me, we do our business our way.
“We understand the talent coming in tomorrow night but at the same time we’re a proud organization and we’re going to be there.”
Defenceman Kris Russell was a surprise scratch prior to Tuesday’s game against Anaheim. It’ll be less surprising if he isn’t in the lineup Thursday against the Blackhawks.
“We don’t want to risk anything with any of our players but at the same time there’s a chance that Kris could be in the lineup tomorrow,” Hartley said. “We’re going to wait and see how he’s going to show up tomorrow morning then we’ll make the decision with the medical staff if it’s good enough to go on the ice. If yes, we’ll try it. If not, we’ll keep the same pairings as we had [Tuesday].”
David Jones also missed Calgary’s win over the Ducks.
Like Russell, Hartley will take a wait-and-see approach.
“David, same thing. There’s progress but not good enough. With Jonesy, it’s upper body. [Tuesday] morning, we’re going to wait and see how he’s going to be. If he’s on the ice there’s a chance he plays.”