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Flames say they have a "better team game" to get to as homestand continues

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

First in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.

Second overall in the league.

Second in offensive firepower, third in goals for/against ratio.

Winners of five of six and riding a 13-4-2 run since the end of November.

Not that you'll find any high struttin' or chest thumpin' down at the 'Dome.

"Of course we're happy with where we are,'' acknowledged centre Mikael Backlund, as the Flames concluded Thursday's practice. "But at the same time, as soon as you start feeling satisfied, somebody will go by you.

"The strength of this group is that we're always pushing to be better. We really haven't had a full 60-minute effort in a while; certainly not on the last (3-1) road trip or last night's game (a 5-3 decisioning of the Colorado Avalanche).

"Definitely improvements need to be made. But that's exciting, too, to see where we are and knowing there's still lots of room for improvement. Winning is always a lot of fun. I'll take a win any way we get one. You never apologize for a win.

"Last year we had stretches where we played unbelievable games and couldn't find a way to win. That's so frustrating.

"I'm not saying I'd rather play bad and win, but it's a strength of this group that we find different ways to win all kinds of games."

Video: COL@CGY: Backlund buries rebound for opening goal

As the Flames prepared for the second of a five-game homestand, Friday versus the Florida Panthers, everyone is clamouring to slap 'em on the back for authoring one of the top storylines of 2018-19 thus far.

Fear not. Their reputation may have swelled over the opening 44 games, but not their heads.

"We've gotten away from it," said coach Bill Peters, matter-of-factly. "I think today's going to go a long way. I think the fact that we have three practices here in the next five days is really gonna help.

"We weren't perfect on the road, by any stretch of the imagination. I thought we struggled with the puck a little (Wednesday) night. There are things we've gotten away from.

"We've got a better team game.

"Good teams find a way to win. What happens, when you're winning consistently, you win a few more before you go the other way. When you're on a losing streak, you usually lose one or two that you shouldn't before you start to win again."

Given three changes in the coaching staff, including the head knock, key personnel additions/subtractions and the exhibition-season journey to China and back, these Flames have adapted quickly.

"That's why I wanted to stay here," said Backlund, who signed a six-year extension a shade less than a year ago. "I believed in this group. I thought last year we had way more in us than we got out. I don't know why that was, but I felt we had a lot of good players in here.

"So it's no surprise to me that we're playing well."

Tweet from @PR_NHL: The @NHLFlames (28-13-4) reached the 60-point mark in their 45th game marking the second fastest season to 60 points in franchise history (41 GP in 1988-89). #NHLStats

The new guy in charge, either.

"We thought we had a real good team," reckoned Peters of his gang's pre-regular-season aspirations. "We've had some ups and downs through the course of the season but that's typical for every team.

"Where we're at is really in a clump, right? There's a clump of teams at the top of the Pacific Division, three teams all there together. So on any given day, if you play or you don't, you could be ranked in the top spot or you could be second or third.

"You're all together with relatively the same winning percentage."

Currently, only the running-riot Tampa Bay Lightning have accrued more points, by eight, than Calgary's 60. Not that laying claim to the President's Trophy is any sort of all-consuming aim in Backlund's mind, at least.

"I'm just focusing on making the playoffs," said the second longest-serving Flame. "Winning the division and all that would be great, but being in the playoffs is what really matters.

"Get in the playoffs and you've got a chance. Get in the playoffs and you can make some noise.

"That's where we want to be and that's what we want to do."

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