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'WE'VE ALL GOT TO STEP UP'

Flames players and head coach all focused on one thing: improving team's inconsistent play

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / calgaryflames.com

You never critique a win.

Or so the story goes.

While Bill Peters and the Flames will happily take the points, those conquered in the emotional, come-from-behind, and sometimes larcenous fashion are no longer the elephant in the room.

The head coach and his players made one thing abundantly clear following Wednesday's practice: Every man, to a man, needs to be better.

A lot better.

"I like our team a lot," said Peters, prefacing his thoughts on the recent state of affairs.

"I don't love the play we're playing. That's obvious, right?

"But I like our team a lot."

Peters, who specifically said his team looked "too comfortable," "flat," and that "a lot more" was needed from his veteran players following a 4-3 overtime win over the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday, was asked Wednesday on what he considered most troubling.

"Our starts, emotional engagement, physical engagement, and our execution with the puck," he deadpanned.

"You've got to provide a dimension. Everyone's clear on what they do to help a hockey team win games, and you've got to provide that each and every night and start on time. Our starts haven't been good enough, so you've got to get prepared - individually - to start, and that collectively it gives us a chance to start on time."

 

Video: "Our starts haven't been good enough"

 

At 9-7-2, and with wins in three of their last four games, the Flames have had spurts of the dominant play they're capable of. Too often, though, the dramatic, late-game heroics have been become an addiction - an instinctual response borne naturally when desperation comes into play.

"We're sitting waiting a little bit too much lately," captain Mark Giordano said. "It's not because guys don't care or anything like that - I think guys care a lot - but we're sitting waiting for something to happen instead of dictating the play.

"You see that once we get down and we play with that nothing-to-lose mentally, we have a good enough team that we can come back, but we don't want to be doing that. We want to start right from puck drop, dictate the play and be all over teams."

A sentiment echoed by rest of the leadership group.

"We've got to go out there and take control," Sean Monahan said. "This is not an easy league to win in, and not an easy league to score goals. We've got the guys in here that can do both of those things, so it's a matter of putting the work in.

"I don't think our record shows how we've been playing. It could be a lot worse, and obviously (David Rittich) has been standing on his head, so we've got to get together - older guys, veteran guys, leaders of this team - have to step up and take some control.

"We're a quarter through the season, almost, here and this obviously isn't where we want to be. What we're showing right now is not acceptable.

"This isn't the team that we are.

"We've all got to step up."

 

Video: "We got to get together ... we gotta step up here."

 

The Flames do deserve credit for being resilient.

Last Thursday, they overcame a three-goal deficit to push the game to overtime, winning 6-5 over the Nashville Predators thanks to Matthew Tkachuk and his incredible, highlight-reel showmanship.

Then, last night, the Flames tallied a pair only 49 seconds apart late in regulation to force the extra frame, where Tkachuk - who skated the majority of the speedy, 3-on-3 session - finished it with a sneaky shot between the wickets.

The Flames had only nine pucks fired the way of Arizona goalie Antti Raanta by the midway point of the second period, but finished with 43, proving they can be the team dictating the play when they want to.

Naturally, Rittich deserves a ton of credit for that, too. Staging a late rally means activating the D and taking a few chances on at the offensive side of the puck. So, without the goalie's efforts on the numerous odd-man chances against, there would be no comeback at all.

Asked why the script flipped so suddenly on offence last night, Giordano pointed to the group's work ethic.

"You're frustrated when you know you have way more give," he said. "I think, for us, we have to get back to our working and putting on those working boots. We're at our best when we're in the O zone a lot, hemming teams in. It doesn't feel like it's been that way at all this year.

"We've had some good moments, but for the most part, we've been defending too much."

 

Video: "We know we have a lot of areas to clean up"

 

Of course, the key question remains: Why? Is it simply a matter of the players trying to do too much?

Quite possibly.

As Peters explains, the only way you can optimize your performance and execute at the highest level as a team, is to have trust in one another to do their part.

"A lot of people, a lot of athletes, their fall-back mechanism is, 'I'll do it myself,'" he said.

"That doesn't work in this sport, at all. ... You've got to be cohesive.

"It's a comfortable feeling when you know what the guy to the left of you, guy to the right of you, and the guy across from you, is going to go to work.

"That gives you comfort.

"It's uncomfortable when you don't know that player to the left of you, to the right of you, and across from you is going to do. That's where we're at right now. We know that they know that.

"We have to change it. I have to change it.

"Better starts. Different lineups.

"Earn your opportunity."

 

Video: "We do need to be better"

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