After establishing a new franchise mark for consecutive losses on home ice with seven in their 5-2 setback to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, the Calgary Flames are hoping a change of scenery can help kick start the slumping club.
The Flames start their first of two away from Scotiabank Saddledome against the Vancouver Canucks, a rink Matt Stajan called the perfect setting for a swing in fortunes.
“At this level, you take it one game at a time and no better team to play on a Saturday night in their home barn,” Stajan said. “We’re excited for this one. We’ll take a change, I think. We’re not happy with the way we’ve played of late, especially on home ice.
“A little trip here, hopefully we can turn things around before we get back home.”
That turnaround, Lee Stempniak admitted, needs to starts at Rogers Arena.
“To come to Vancouver, play one of our biggest rivals, we know it’s going to be a hard fought game,” he said. “It should give a good opportunity for ourselves to take some momentum and hopefully carry it forward.”
Momentum is something Calgary has failed to grasp of late, though. The Flames are just 2-8-0 in their past 10 and are coming off back-to-back losses. Dating back to Dec. 15, Calgary is just 3-11-2, too.
Stempniak believes the remedy starts with the start.
“If every line wins their first shift, you should generate some good momentum and really carry that forward,” he said. “There’s really no excuse to come out flat or to not be skating. For us, we rely on our work ethic and really skating well and when we’re not doing that, we really struggle.
“That should be point No. 1 every game is to come out, do whatever it takes to get into the game with a good skating shift, whether that’s finishing checks or getting scoring chances, just do something where you’re skating and really in the game right from the start.”
Calgary holds a record of 9-5-2 when scoring the game’s first goal.
CANUCKS STRUGGLING, TOO
The Flames aren’t the only team struggling heading into Saturday’s tilt on ‘Hockey Day in Canada’.
Vancouver dropped all three games on their recent road trip and was outscored 11-1 in the process. The disappointing swing was punctuated by a 9-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, a setback that was bookended by 1-0 shutout losses to the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes.
“I’m not interested in a conversation about confidence,” said Canucks coach John Tortorella, whose Canucks have just one win since beating the Flames on Dec. 29. “We’re not dealing with 20, 21-year-old kids here that we’re developing. We’re dealing with a team that we have really good people and really good leadership and we have won some games along the way this year.
“We’re in a tough spot here right now as far as the past couple weeks, but it’s not about you have to feel perfect, you have to find a way to get yourself ready to win one game tonight and that’s against Calgary. Our top guys need to lead the way.”
A quick start from the Flames could help dampen spirits in Vancouver.
“We’ve got to try to jump on them quick,” Stajan said. “They’re coming off a road trip and that first game back isn’t always easy and we want to make sure that we try to get that first goal. We’ve talked about it a lot and how important it is, especially in this building because they come in waves. It’s a good test for us and we’ll be ready to go.”
After missing 12 games with a meniscal tear, Blair Jones is set to return to the lineup against the Canucks.
“It’s going to be nice,” Jones said. “It’s pretty tough watching games. I just want to get back into the lineup and help the team. It has been a battle. The team is having a tough time scoring and it’s never fun. You can see it on the guys’ faces sometimes how frustrated they are. You don’t like to see that so hopefully we’ll start getting some bounces going our way.”
He isn’t the only Jones on the mend.
David Jones, who has been forced out of action for almost two weeks with an eye injury, has been cleared to return to action. Kris Russell, who will miss his 13th game in a row on Saturday, has also been cleared.
“David Jones should be in the lineup in the next few games,” Hartley said. “He has been cleared but at the same time, he didn’t skate for six, seven days and he was basically shut down for quite a few days so I think that conditioning-wise, we just want to make sure.
“Russell is the same thing. He has been cleared but with the knee injury and everything, there’s no way we’re going to take a chance with any one of our guys in the lineup if we feel that fitness-wise, they’re not at the top.”
AGAINST THE CANUCKS
Calgary’s All-time record vs. VAN: 123-85-33-9-2
Calgary’s All-time record at VAN: 54-48-18-5-1
Last 10 games vs. VAN: 3-4-2-1
Last 10 games at VAN: 2-6-1-1
MILESTONES WITHIN REACH
TJ Galiardi needs 5 points for 100
Jiri Hudler needs 1 game for 500.
Derek Smith needs 6 games for 100.
Tonight’s tilt between Calgary and the Canucks will be broadcast as part of Hockey Day in Canada on CBC (TV) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (Radio) at 8 p.m. MST.