Johnson: Rough road ahead for Flames
Four-game stretch could be deadly for slumping team
The North Yungas Road, also known as the Road of Death, 40 mountain-hugging miles only 10 feet wide between La Paz and Coroico, Bolivia, is widely regarded as the most dangerous road in the world.
Come a week today, the Calgary Flames might put up an argument on that.
Chicago to St. Paul, St. Loo to Denver. On the NHL highway, brother, that is one of, if not the, most treacherous stretches of terrain immaginable. Enough to make the most intrepid nomads give pause. So navigate at your own risk.
Arguably even more daunting, yes, than the last time they sallied forth, a tortuous trek through California, Arizona and Texas.
And everyone knows how that turned out ...
“That last one was a tough one for us,” sighed defenceman Chris Butler, already trying to run a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings through the handy-dandy mental shredder. “I don’t think we played our style of hockey, to our identity.
“Then we come home against Washington” — a mighty impressive 5-2 spanking of Ovie and Co. — “and we’re swarming the puck, we’re intense, we’re playing a fast game. Maybe on the road trip we were feeling things out going into different buildings, for whatever reason.
“On this one, we can’t afford to get away from that workman-like, grinder, blue-collar attitude that we’ve kinda developed this year. Against teams like Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, as a defenceman I look at their offensive corps, the guys up front, and when you turn pucks over against those guys — same with Detroit tonight — you’re going to spend entire nights in your D-zone.
“When you do get it out, you’re just dumping it in and going for a change instead of forechecking, using your team speed, which is what’s allowed us to have some success.
“So I’d say puck management is the most important thing looking ahead to this road trip.”
For the first time in the surprise start to the season, the local ice Adonises find themselves hovering below the water line, at 5-6-2. The four teams they’ll face on this trek of terror only happen to be the Nos. 1 though 4 in the Central Division, sport a combined record of 34-8-5 and 20-4-5 on home ice. The Hawks are, well, the Hawks: Skilled, deep and an authentic threat to repeat. The Blues have lost only once in regulation. Patrick Roy, the early-season Jack Adams frontrunner, has his youthful Avs playing beyond their years, up to the level of their precociousness.
“Yeah,” conceded Butler, pondering a roll call of destinations, “that is a tough road.”
Certainly nobody’s idea of a skip down the Yellow Brick Road on the way to Emerald City.
More ominously, the Flames open up at the United Center on the south side of Chicago, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown territory, where they have one limp point to show for the last 20 on offer (0-9-1).
“A tough building to win in, for sure, but also a fun one to play in,” countered defenceman Shane O’Brien, hopefully. “It’s loud. No problem getting jacked up for the game. And you fully understand the type of team you’re up against.
“So we know what’s ahead of us, and it won’t be easy, but maybe we need to get on the road here and start finding ways to win games and maybe claw our back above .500.”
Should the same fate befall them on their last sojourn abroad, it’d be awfully difficult to regroup. The locals left for the California opening of that swing on a laughing-gas high, unbeaten (3-0-2) in regulation. This time, they depart on the heels of back-to-back home losses, four setbacks in five overall, frantically trying to regain lost equilibrium.
On Friday, the Flames fell behind 2-0, undeservedly, despite holding a wide edge in play and shots, showed that resiliency that’s already become hallmark, pulling it back 2-2 only to see a go-ahead clearing pass go in off from behind the goal line on Joey MacDonald.
After that, the air couldn’t escape the balloon fast enough. Pfffffffffffffffffffffff!
“The last two efforts, definitely the Toronto game and maybe even tonight, we should’ve gotten something out of,” acknowledged O’Brien. “But through the course of the season there are always times when you’re left wondering ‘Why?’ ‘Cause you’re working hard and doing the right things. We’re a young team, we’re learning.
“The thing about this league is, nobody feels sorry for you. Sometimes the hockey gods arent always fair. So you’ve got have a short memory in this business. Put the last one behind you — good or bad — and move on. And that’s what we’ll do: Move on.”
To Chicago and St. Paul, St. Loo and Denver. A tough road. An unforgiving road. A road, some might suggest at an exceedingly delicate point in a rebuilding season, to ruin.
More perilous, maybe, than even the dreaded North Yungas.
“It’s frustrating knowing we’re not getting the result,” acknowledged Butler, “but if you look at the process, the style of game we’ve been playing … it’s not like we came out flat, we’re garbage and making a bunch of boneheaded, stupid play. So yeah, it is frustrating not getting points when maybe you think you should.
“Then again, I’ve never been a big believer just because you feel you should’ve won the game, then you’re owed it. All that ‘deserved a better fate’ stuff.
“Doesn’t matter if you ‘feel’ should’ve won the game. That doesn’t count for anything. You have to win it.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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