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Flames shake-up lines to add strength down the middle - Mony and Johnny back together, along with Rieder

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

If Geoff Ward has learned anything over his long and winding career behind the bench, it's that the game waits for no one.  

Hit a bit of a rough patch? Deal with it - swiftly - but leave it where it belongs. 

In the past. 

The Flames, who are pining at the chance to make amends, have moved on.

"The highs can't too high for a team in this league, and the lows can't get too low," the interim boss cautioned following Thursday's morning skate. 

"We've dropped a couple hockey games here, but we feel like changing that around is in our control. You get a little more worried if you feel like it's outside of your control.

"Our focus isn't changing here on a daily basis. We're not going to get too wound up over a couple losses. We feel like we've got them where we need to put them, we've most past them, and now we're looking forward to what's coming ahead, because we've got a tough schedule coming up."

The Flames wrap up a three-game homestand tonight against the New York Rangers, looking to put the skids on an 0-4-1 slide at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

 

Video: "We have to make sure we're ready"

 

Typically, as Albertans know all too well during wintry, freeze-and-thaw cycle, a realignment is needed when you crank a pothole or two. 

The Flames are no different, shuffling the forward lines and bringing a much different look to the equation after a pair of disappointing results, 5-2 to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, followed by a 5-3 setback to the Chicago Blackhawks, most recently, on New Year's Eve.

The biggest change will come on the second line, where longtime pals Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will be reunited, but will have a newcomer on the right flank - the speedy Swiss Army knife, Tobias Rieder. 

It's a new formation, but one Ward and the Flames are excited about, as it allows Mikael Backlund to move back into the middle on the third trio, giving the locals a Lindholm-Monahan-Backlund-Ryan look down the pipe. 

"It's always great playing with two world-class players, right?" Rieder said. "I'm just trying to do my job - get in on the forecheck, win puck battles and get the puck in those guys' hands. 

"Everybody knows they can make plays out of nothing, so I'm going to try and be hard on the forecheck and win those pucks for them."

 

Video: "We know we're a good team .. if we play right way"

 

Rieder has been a joy for the Flames this year, turning a training camp tryout into full-time employment, and elevating his game ever since. 

He sits fifth among forwards with a 51.47% shot share and a 52.27% split of the high-danger scoring chances (5-on-5), and has been a terrific addition to the penalty-kill, where his quick wheels have helped generate offence, along with the defensive blockade he's there to provide. 

Asked whether or not he viewed this latest opportunity as a reward for a strong half season, the 26-year-old deferred to his bosses, but added a laugh for good measure:

"You've got to ask the coaches that," he smiled, "but it's always nice to play with guys like that. 

"I'm just trying to do my best out there."

 

Video: Brendan Parker on the visiting Rangers

 

While Rieder's addition to the top-six will easily garner the most buzz, it's the impact on the third and fourth units that Ward is most eager to see. 

With a Rangers team with plenty of offensive weapons waiting on the other side, depth down the middle could be the difference. 

"It gives us an awful lot of experience, first and foremost," Ward said. "It gives us three, strong, two-way players. When you talk about what you're looking for in guys that play centre ice, usually what you're looking for in today's game are guys that are good 200-foot players. 

"Those guys all certainly fit that bill. That allows us, potentially, to move pucks out of our own end a lot easier, and allows us to get up on the rush more. 

"I feel it does more for us, offensively, because we're solid defensively."

Do both, and the foundation is set. 

The players know the time is now to right the ship and go on a run. 

They've done it before, and they're hungry for that again. 

"We want this to be a building where teams come in and know it's going to be a tough night," Backlund said. "We want them to know they're coming in and playing a solid team that works hard.

"We've got to get back to that."

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