NHL.com's weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With ..." is back for the 2013-14 season. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them poignant questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the state of their teams.
The latest edition features Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley:
While warning that he and every one of his players have to stay grounded and humble, that five games is too small a sample to go on, Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley sees his team's surprising 3-0-2 record and can't help but wonder about the potential for what could happen on its upcoming five-game road trip that starts Wednesday.
"We learned a lot in the first five, but the next five, all five road games against very good hockey clubs, that's going to say a lot," Hartley told NHL.com on Monday.
The Flames play at the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. They head up the coast to play the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and come back down to play the Los Angeles Kings on Monday before traveling slightly east to play at the Phoenix Coyotes the next night. They close their road trip at the Dallas Stars on Oct. 24.
"Those are five road games all in our conference so we will have to be at our best," Hartley said. "Those points will be worth gold in April and I think that the guys are up to this. Everyone knows his role. Everyone really buys in."
Hartley talked about what he's seen since the start of training camp, why his players are so motivated, and so much more in the following exclusive Q&A with NHL.com.
Here are Five Questions With … Bob Hartley:
Your team blew two three-goal leads in Washington on opening night and lost in a shootout, but despite that, did you get a sense at the time that something was brewing, that the team could get off to a decent start even though you cost yourselves two points that night?
"I sensed it even before that first game in Washington. I sensed it basically from the first day of [training] camp that it was totally a refreshed mindset. I don't know if it has anything to do with the work stoppage last year, all the uncertainty, but I felt it right from the start. In Washington, my gosh, we got out flying, but we also had some real good exhibition games. Obviously in Washington, that was a pretty good eye-opener for us in two ways: No. 1, we could score goals, but No. 2, we have to play 60 minutes. We learned this very quickly, it only took us one game. Just to show the balance in this League, we have five games played and our five games are decided by five goals. We could be 5-0 but we could also be 0-5."
The team is 3-0-2, but many people would argue that its success is not sustainable because it is winning fewer than 45 percent of faceoffs, giving up 31 shots per game, more than three goals per game, and one goal for every three power-play opportunities. How do you respond to those issues and do you worry if they don't turn quickly they could rear their ugly heads when you go on this five-game road trip?
"We know that we have some very interesting challenges ahead of us, but at the same time, in our situation, the same as many teams, we take this one game at a time. We're looking at chances-for versus chances-against and in our first five games we out-chanced the other team by about 15 chances. So we're getting three more chances to score per game than the other team. Maybe we don't have a [Sidney] Crosby or an [Alex] Ovechkin on our team, but we're doing it by committee and right now it's working.
"But we're all aware that the pace of the League is going to pick up. I believe with my years in the NHL that in probably another five or seven games, the pace is going to pick up and some of the teams that are struggling now are going to start to turn it on.
"On our side, we're all aware of what has been written and said for us regarding expectations, where we should finish. We're all aware of this and that's OK. There's nothing that we can do about it from what was written or said. The only thing that we can do is control the way we work, the way we prepare and that's how I challenged the guys from Day 1 in training camp. I told them, 'If you read everything that is being said about us, No. 1 we're lucky to be in the NHL and No. 2 we may want to retire.' I said, 'If you want to use this as motivation that's fine, but I'd rather look at [president of hockey operations] Brian Burke, [general manager] Jay Feaster, our fans, our sponsors. We have a great hockey community over here and they're certainly behind us all the way.'
"Maybe the best way is to put a positive spin to all of that. We work for us, we work for those guys and let's see where that takes us. And right now we've been getting unbelievable contributions basically from everyone."
As you mentioned you do not have a Crosby or an Ovechkin, but your offense still has been proficient with 18 goals in five games. Why do you think your offense has been as good as it has been through five games despite not having a go-to scorer, or even Mike Cammalleri in the lineup?
"I think it starts in our zone, the contribution of our defensemen like Mark Giordano, [Dennis] Wideman, [T.J.] Brodie and [Kris] Russell. Those guys have logged big minutes for us and offensively they're all good with the puck. Maybe Russell doesn't have any points, but you look at his breakout passes and you look at the way he supports the attack. It's the same thing with Brodie. Gio [Giordano] and Wides [Wideman] have been very good. I think we're real tight together.
Center - CGY
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 6
SOG: 13 | +/-: 0
"The players, there is a very solid bond and they're performing. We're not scared of anything, we just go and play. But at the same time I remind our guys that there are still 77 games to be played. We can't sit on what we did for the first five games because that will evaporate real quickly."
We don't yet know if rookie Sean Monahan has another four games with the Flames this season or potentially 77. It's a decision that still has to be made if he will be returned to his junior team. Regardless, he has had an impact with six points, including four goals. What are you doing to protect him or shield him so he's exposed to the NHL game, but not overexposed to where he's a liability?
"I need to bring a certain balance to his game. I watch for the matchups and I try to put him in situations where I'll be able to really take advantage of his offensive skills. At the same time in practices, he's an unbelievable worker so we work a lot on all kinds of details in the game. Whether it's during practice or after practice we do lots of work with him. In the video room, lots of time he sits with us and we go through all kinds of clips. It's just a matter of trying to help him from a coaching standpoint, but I have to admit that the entire team has done an unbelievable job with him. They like the kid. He's such a fine young man. There is absolutely no jealousy. I can see every day some veterans sitting down with him, helping him out, or even in practice or on the bench during games. It has been a total team effort and obviously Sean Monahan has been a very pleasant addition to our team since Day 1."
Jiri Hudler is another forward who is producing. His minutes are up from last season. His numbers are up, at least through five games. What are you seeing from Jiri now that you didn't see last season?
"Jiri came last year and his dad passed away toward the end of training camp and we all know how short that training camp was. It seems that by the time he got back with us we had lost a few games, confidence was not real high, and Jiri never found his identity on our hockey club. This year, right from Day 1 of camp, he's unbelievably fit. He had a great summer of hard work. He's taking charge. He's one of our big leaders and offensively I think he's our motor now. He's creating a lot and whether it's on the power play or 5-on-5 he's always in the middle of everything. He's very creative and I think he's having a lot of fun."