While we’re battling for a playoff spot I think that this is a great learning experience for our team, especially our young players. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- A must-win mentality is paying dividends for the development of the Calgary Flames.
With over a month of must-win games, Calgary’s youth is receiving a hands-on education as to what it takes to compete in the National Hockey League.
“There’s ways and obviously the easiest way is to look at our veterans,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “We’ve said all along the way that we’re so fortunate to count on great leaders. They know how to prepare physically, mentally and while we’re battling for a playoff spot I think that this is a great learning experience for our team, especially our young players.
“You want to play games that mean something at this time of the year. You want to play games that they’re must-win situations game after game. I think it’s making us better. It’s making us better short term; it’s making us better long term.”
Entering action Thursday, the Flames sit at 87 points and hold a one-point edge on the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division and trail the Vancouver Canucks by three for second. Both the Canucks and Kings hold a game at hand.
The Winnipeg Jets, who hold the second wild card entry into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, have 88 points.
The experience is helping the kids, Kris Russell admitted.
“I think you just go through it,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of them have been in situations in junior and in college – some big games. I think we’re just a group that some young guys are having fun and playing hard. That can work out good for you.”
LONG ROAD AHEAD
The road has worked out for the Flames, too, who are no strangers to important sets away from home.
A six-game road trip after the season opener in October was supposed to slow Calgary out of the gates. Instead, it set the tone with a 4-2 mark. With the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier invading Scotiabank Saddledome from Feb. 28 - March 8, The Flames posted a record of 4-2-1.
With the next five games coming away from home, the importance of the road game continues for Calgary.
“We’ve been playing playoff hockey for a while. It doesn’t change,” Russell said. “Obviously it gets tougher on the road, but we’ve played well on the road too. It’s a big challenge for us and I think we’re excited for it. This is a fun time of year.
“Obviously we’ve got to keep winning and we’ve got to keep putting points on the board. Our main goal is to make the playoffs, but we’re a long ways away with eight games left. It’s just trying to keep improving, keep getting better and just having fun with it as well.”
Overall, the Flames are 19-14-2 away from home.
It’s a product of keeping things simple, Russell admitted.
“I think we just keep it simple,” he said. “We just try and get our systems going early in the game, get pucks deep, get our forecheck going. When we try and create or try and be too fancy that hinders us. We’re just kind of a meat-and-potatoes team – get the puck deep, try and outwork other teams, so I think that’s what we need to bring on this road trip. We’ve showed it before.”
STICKING TO SEGMENTS
The road is no reason for Hartley to stop his seven-game segments with eight games remaining.
“Tomorrow night is going to be Game 5,” Hartley said. “So far we have six points out of eight, which equates to three wins out of four which is very good. Now, obviously, we know that the next three games will be huge ones. The battle keeps going and after this it’s going to be a final sprint of a five-game segment.”
With 82 regular season games on the regular season schedule, Hartley will shrink Calgary’s final segment into five games. That transition comes in the middle of the Flames’ five-game swing that starts Friday against the Minnesota Wild and concludes April 4 against the Edmonton Oilers
“We can look at it from a five-game road trip because that’s what it is,” Hartley said. “But at the same time, the way that we’ve worked, the way that we’ve prepared all year, it’s a three-game road trip then we’ll start on a two-game road trip.”
It starts with Minnesota.
“I think we try and keep it as best as we can,” Russell said. “Obviously you’re looking at the standings every day, but we’ve just got to take care of our business. It’s a big road trip. We know that we’re playing some tough teams. It starts with [Minnesota] and we go from there. We’re just looking at it a game at a time. It’s a big game against Minnesota. They’re playing really well, so we’ve got to have our best.”
QUICK HITS: Six players, plus Jonas Hiller, took part in an optional skate Thursday before the team departed for Minnesota…Karri Ramo is expected to start against the Wild...The Flames signed prospect Austin Carroll to an entry-level contract Thursday…On Wednesday, the Flames announced today that Douglas Murray’s try-out with the team had expired.