They’re a good team. If they would’ve been healthier this year they would be in a different spot in the standings. It’s going to be a tough team to play against tomorrow. - Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames aren’t treating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 32-35-4, like a team that sits 15 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, they’re treating them like the club that has won two straight and five of their past six overall when they visit Scotiabank Saddledome for an afternoon affair on Saturday.
“They’ve been very good,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said following Friday’s skate at WinSport. “Our players already know about this. It’s all about playing our own game. I told our guys the same sentences I’ve been telling them for basically the last three weeks -- recognize our situation. That’s where we’re at. Whether we play the Red Army, the Canadian Olympic team or the Columbus Blue Jackets, it’s the same thing for us.
"We need to be ready. We need to be on our toes. We need to be at our best. Tomorrow, 2 o’clock game, Scotiabank Saddledome is rocking again. We have three home games left before we go on the road. Lets cash them in.”
Columbus has been limited to spoiler duty after struggling through much of the season with injury.
Prior to helping Calgary by beating the Vancouver Canucks 6-2 at Rogers Place on Thursday, the Blue Jackets had already racked up a franchise record 450 man-games lost due to injury -- eclipsing the old mark of 411 -- and are on pace to finish the season with 527.
Those injuries have handicapped an otherwise threatening team, according to Mikael Backlund.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “If they would’ve been healthier this year they would be in a different spot in the standings. It’s going to be a tough team to play against tomorrow.”
Hartley recognizes that, too.
“Speed, great goaltending and they work hard,” he said. “Here’s a team that has been hurt by injuries all year, major injuries for a long time. That’s why they’re not in the playoff picture right now. But they have a good culture over there. They work hard. Look at what they’re doing right now. There’s no surprises on our part.”
Thanks in part to a goal and two assists to help pace the Flames to a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, Johnny Gaudreau moved ahead of Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg and into sole possession of the rookie-scoring race with 56 points.
The progression comes as no surprise to Hartley.
“He’s just focused on everything that he does, whether preparing his stick, working in the gym,” he said. “I’ve seen an unbelievable progression in every part of his game because he wanted it. I remember this summer at my hockey camp I had a dinner with him and I told him, I looked at him right in the eyes and I said ‘Johnny, we’re going to give you every opportunity to make the team’ and he looked back and said, ‘That’s all that I want’. He took charge of the rest. He deserves great credit.”
Gaudreau has five goals and 12 points in his past nine games. He’s only been held without a point in two skates during the stretch, including a 4-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.
The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner bounced back from that against the Flyers.
“For me, I think now we’re in the playoff race I’ve got to make sure I’m coming ready to play every single game,” Gaudreau said. “That St. Louis game I didn’t play my best obviously. I wanted to make sure I came back out flying for the Philly game. We need every single point. It was a huge game for us.”
BYRON ON THE MEND
Paul Byron is better, but not quite ready, to return to the Flames lineup. The 5-foot-7, 153-pound forward has not played since Feb. 16 and is expected to miss his 15th straight game with a lower body injury Saturday against Columbus.
But he’s getting close.
“Paulie was full practice,” Hartley said. “We’re going to wait and see tomorrow morning to see how he feels. He will not play tomorrow, that’s for sure, but if he keeps progressing, Monday could be a possibility.”
Byron, though, is being cautious with the injury.
“You never want to set yourself back,” Byron said. “Today was definitely a great step going forward and hopefully I can get back in the lineup soon. I felt that confidence. Obviously it’s going to take a little bit to get up to speed with everybody else but I’ve just got to keep working at it in practice like today.”
QUICK HITS: Karri Ramo is expected to make his second straight start…Josh Jooris and Drew Shore, who both missed Thursday’s win against the Flyers, skated with the team but aren’t expected to play against the Blue Jackets…TJ Brodie missed the skate due to maintenance…Douglas Murray remains with the team on a try-out basis.