Jumping back into the top three of the Pacific Division — with a win over the rival Edmonton Oilers to do it no less — has the Calgary Flames feeling good about themselves these days.
However, as they kick off a three-game homestand by facing the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, the Flames also must be sure they aren’t flying too high and end up taking a step back.
It was the resounding message during Saturday’s practice in anticipation of facing the Canucks.
“We came in focused on the (Edmonton) game, we weren’t staying in the break, and I thought we got ourselves really well prepared for the game,” coach Geoff Ward said. “Credit to the guys. I liked our focus before the game. I liked the way that they stayed on it — stayed on task during the game. And I liked the way they were today at practice. They’re not sitting in yesterday’s game, they’re getting ready for Vancouver.
“So, all in all, I think that’s probably the biggest thing for me coming out of the break, was how businesslike we are, and how focused we are right now on playing hockey.”
A 5-1 win over the Oilers on Friday, gave them victories in two of three games, but they’re reminding themselves how much work is ahead.
“This stretch on our schedule is no cake walk,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “This is a time where we are playing a lot of teams in the West, coming up, a lot of teams that are in and around us in the standings. Vancouver here, and then we got Chicago twice, we have (Minnesota) twice — just a lot of teams that are fighting for their lives, sort of, right now.”
The Canucks are coming off a 3-2 home-ice win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday to run their winning streak to four games.
It wasn’t an easy victory — the Canucks blew a 2-0 lead and needed a career-high 49-save performance from goalie Jacob Markstrom to record it — but vaulted them into a wild-card playoff spot.
“To get back in the win column after the break is a good feeling,” said Markstrom, whose performance ties the mark for the second most in a victory in franchise history.
Even though the Canucks staked themselves to a 2-0 lead and ultimately collected the win, they weren’t at their best. Then again, many teams coming off a lengthy break have been plagued by the struggles that struck them
“The puck wasn’t our friend. We fought it,” coach Travis Green said. “Even if we got a puck on our stick in our own end, we had a tough time corralling it to even get it out. Our breakouts weren’t as effective as they are when we’re playing well. It’s a bad excuse but it happens when guys are off the ice for a while.”
That said, nobody believes a repeat performance will lead to a win over the Flames.
“We won the game. We found a way to win. Of course, we can’t play like this,” said Elias Pettersson, who scored the game winner. “We have to work harder, be better with the puck.”
What remains to be seen is whether Markstrom will face the Canucks or Thatcher Demko will see action for the first time since Dec. 7.
“If they want me to play, I’ll play,” said Markstrom, who recorded his 100th career win against the Kings. “I’ve been playing a lot even before the break, but we’ll see what happens.”
–Field Level Media