In beating the New Jersey Devils 3-1 at Prudential Center a night ago, the Flames bounced back up into a playoff spot heading into National Hockey League action Thursday, jumping ahead of the Minnesota Wild and into the second of two-wild card positions in the Western Conference.
Whether or not that sticks after an idle night remains to be seen.
“It’s going to be the yo-yo game,” Hartley started. “Teams have games in hand and we will have games in hand. It’s going to be back-and-forth. It’s all about winning our games. We’re in a situation that we don’t control if we’re going to get help from other teams around the league but at the same time we control our own games and that’s where our focus is right now.”
Calgary sits one point up on the Wild, who are in action Thursday against the West-leading Nashville Predators. The Flames are also locked at 70 points with the Los Angeles Kings, who will face the Ottawa Senators. The Vancouver Canucks, who play the Buffalo Sabres, and the idle Winnipeg Jets hold a three-point edge.
Putting together a winning streak would help take Calgary out of yo-yo range, figures defenceman Kris Russell.
“Obviously we’re looking at the standings every day,” he said. “It’s kind of like you win, you stay level and if you lose, you drop. We know as a team we’ve got to put a string of wins together. It’s not just a roller-coaster, win here, lose there. We’ve got to be competitive each and every game and try to get a few together and really go after teams on this road trip.”
Not getting too high when the team does push upward, and not getting too low should the team slip out momentarily is key, Russell added.
“Even keel,” he said. “Each game is just as important as the next. You can’t look forward to games that are coming up. We’ve got the Islanders tomorrow night. It’s a big task and we’re looking forward to it.”
SIZING UP THE ISLAND
Calgary can string back-to-back wins together with a victory over the Islanders on Friday. It’s no easy task, though. Russell’s Flames found out, in a 2-1 loss to New York at home on Jan. 2.
“They showed us how good of a team they were when they were in the Saddledome,” Russell said. “They’ve got a lot of skill. They’ve got three top-end lines and their fourth line is a big, heavy line so we’ve got to have a big game. We know the challenges we’ll have with some of their skilled guys. It’s going to be a group effort.”
They’ve got great leadership too, Hartley suggested.
Fronted by 24-year-old captain John Tavares, the Islanders sit planted in first in the Metropolitan Division. Tavares himself sits just one point off the NHL lead of 64, held by Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who is expected to miss the next 12 weeks after undergoing surgery on his fractured left clavicle.
“John Tavares has not even reached his prime but has reached a maturity with this organization that he’s a great leader up front,” Hartley said.
But there’s more to the Islanders than Tavares.
“I think that the acquisition of (Jaroslav) Halak and the two defencemen -- (Johnny) Boychuk and (Nick) Leddy -- they were great moves," Hartley added. "I think that team was ready for those three acquisitions because they were very patient with their young players. They went through tough years with those players but they kept putting them on.
“I think (coach) Jack Capuano and his staff, they deserve lots of credit because they worked hard, they worked well, they suffered with those kids and now those kids are turning into the players that they were supposed to be. I’m not surprised to see the Islanders where they’re at right now.”
GAUDREAU SHOW-ING POISE
Johnny Gaudreau is showing no signs of strain as he soldiers through the opening leg of his hometown tour. In fact, teammates and coaches alike have been impressed with the way the 21-year-old has handled himself thus far.
“He keeps getting things thrown at him and just takes it with a smile,” forward Joe Colborne said. “The boys in the room, we do a good job of keeping it light and giving him a hard time sometimes but again, every obstacle that’s thrown at him, every obstacle he overcome he just takes and seems to walk over it without even noticing.”
Teammates don’t need this tour to poke fun at the 5-foot-9, 150-pound winger who sits second in NHL rookie scoring and third on the Flames with 15 goals and 44 points this season.
“Johnny’s just always on the end of some jokes just the way he acts and the way he is,” Russell said. “He’s a funny kid. He’s a real good individual. We’re lucky to have him on our team.
“I think he’s doing good. I think it’s fun for him. He gets family and friends around to watch in the areas he grew up. I know coming home my first few times it was a lot of fun and I’m sure he’s having fun playing in front of his family.”
Hartley suggested the timing of Gaudreau’s tour has been perfect for the first-year pro.
“Johnny is a very mature young individual. He’s focused,” he said. “He’s a great young pro. He’s learning about the game, but off the ice, the way that he handles media, the way that he handles himself is great. I have no doubt in my mind he was ready for this.
“The good part, it’s towards the end of his first season so it’s not like in the first five games. If we would’ve come down east it could’ve been a different story. Now I think everything is under control. He’s proven what he can do on an NHL ice surface. Off the ice he’s just himself. He’s a simple, great young man that wants to do well and he enjoys playing hockey.”
NOTES: There was no update on the condition of captain Mark Giordano, who is still undergoing evaluation. Giordano left the game against the Devils late in the third period…Karri Ramo will make his third straight start Friday against the Islanders…Paul Byron joined a handful of teammates on the ice for the optional skate but did not participate in drills…Back in Calgary, Mason Raymond welcomed a daughter into the world.