A three-game losing skid, their first since early January, is enough cause for concern for the Calgary Flames. As they hit the road to face the Los Angeles Kings on Monday to kick off a four-game road trip, there are aspects of their game creating further angst.
The Pacific Division-leading Flames (40-19-9, 89 points), who are three points ahead of the second-place Kings (38-23-10, 86 points) with three games in hand, have blown a lead in each of those three recent defeats and surrendered a late tally.
The Flames pride themselves on being a tight defensive squad, making Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Blues — which was tied 3-3 with two minutes remaining — extra dispiriting.
“Whenever we’ve had success this year is by playing a hard-nosed, checking game and not trying to win a game 6-5, or whatever,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “We’ve just got to get back on track here.”
Los Angeles won a 3-2 shootout affair in Calgary last week.
As much as Calgary is struggling to win, those losses all come with a caveat. The Flames were the better team in regulation-time defeats at the hands of the Blues and Western Conference-leading Colorado Avalanche by all measures other than the scoreboard. They also controlled the bulk of the game against the Kings.
“There are ups and downs in the season, and one of the things we’ve done really well this year is we’ve established an identity,” forward Milan Lucic said. “We have an identity of what gives us success, and now we have a foundation to fall back on in order to get our game right and get our game where we need it to be.”
Despite a lengthy injured list, the Kings return home after a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday capped a 2-0-1 road trip that also included a shootout loss in Edmonton.
“This was a tough run,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Edmonton, Calgary (and) Winnipeg is not an easy place to play for a lot of reasons. Each one of the teams is a little bit different. They all have superstars who are game-breakers. (We had) outstanding goaltending for the most part. Tough buildings to play in. Not an easy travel schedule.”
Los Angeles was nowhere near being a favorite to finish atop the Pacific Division, with most prognostications placing the Kings near the bottom of the division with the likes of the Anaheim Ducks and expansion Seattle Kraken.
However, with 11 games remaining in the season, the Kings not only hold their playoff fate in their own hands, but they have a chance to earn a banner — or at least have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That said, the message from everyone is to remain focused on the task at hand and let the end result come in time.
“It’s really exciting. You sit back, look at what’s at stake and it’s exciting for a rookie in the league to have this opportunity and go through it with this group,” defenseman Sean Durzi said. “I think we’re becoming a pretty big family in there, every single win, every single character moment, every blocked shot, every hit you become closer. To go through this run together is something special.”
–Field Level Media