Buzz building after Czech players’ solid debuts in Flames uniforms
Teammates among those to notice jump that Cervenka, Hudler bring to NHL club’s forward corps
Matt Stajan was not surprised by anything he saw.
Then again, it had been the first time the Calgary Flames centre had ever seen Roman Cervenka play.
“For everybody it was kind of wait and see — I think he impressed everybody,” said Stajan, who, during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers, had been flanked by Jiri Hudler and Cervenka. “We’ve seen a few flashes in the early going, but (Cervenka) is obviously a great player. Like myself, everybody should be real excited.”
For Hudler, it had been his debut with the Flames.
For Cervenka, it had been his debut in the National Hockey League.
“He’s got a great first two steps,” Stajan said of Cervenka. “He reads the play really well. Look at (Lee Stempniak’s) goal. The play he made for that to happen — I don’t know if a lot of guys saw it, but he lifted their defenceman’s stick. If he doesn’t do that, Jay Bouwmeester never gets the puck . . . and who knows? That’s just great hockey sense that a lot of people might not see.”
Against the Oilers, Cervenka handled nearly 18 minutes of ice time, putting two shots on net and going 3-for-3 on faceoffs. Hudler, in his 17:36, picked up one assist and three hits.
“It’s amazing the game they gave us, based on a couple of video meetings and one practice,” said coach Bob Hartley. “With all the travelling that those guys have done, especially Jiri, they played an unbelievable game. So, if it gets better, it might be ugly.”
Added Stajan: “But you always want to build. It’s never going to be smooth sailing. You’re going to hit bumps on the road as a team, as a line, as a player. For us, we’re pretty fresh as a line . . . we had a good start, but we want to score a few goals.”
The trio, which practised together Monday, gets another chance to show off Thursday when the Colorado Avalanche visits.
Stajan looks forward to it.
“They’re fun guys to play with,” he said. “They’re smart hockey people. You can tell that they read the game very well. It’s that creativity that they both bring. Obviously, they’re skilled guys and they have confidence to make plays. It makes our line really dangerous because . . . you make plays like that, it keeps other teams on their heels.”
Cervenka, advertised in the off-season as a pivot, will get his stab at centre, but Hartley isn’t exactly sure when.
“Right now, I just want to ease him in,” said the coach. “There’s less responsibilities at right wing.”
DECK HEAD HERE
In the aftermath of Jay Bouwmeester’s finest hour as a member of the Flames, it’s interesting to note that the defender’s ice time is down dramatically.
Oh, he’s still involved, but his four nights of work — 22:11, 20:09, 28:04 (including overtime), 24:01 — are a far cry from the typically tall toil since the 2004-05 lockout. His workhorse minutes had put him annually among the NHL’s busiest skaters — sixth, seventh, first, first, second, second, third.
Now, averaging 23:36, Bouwmeester is second — on the Flames (behind Dennis Wideman and ahead of Mark Giordano).
But Hartley insists that Bouwmeester isn’t leashed. The coach added he’s not afraid of pushing the heck out of certain guys.
“There’s no metres on the bench — it’s not like you’re parking,” he said. “I remember once in the American League, I kept Eric Messier and Aaron Miller on the ice for the last 12 minutes of a playoff game. I told them, ‘Do whatever you want, but don’t even look at the bench.’ Maybe it’s not always the best thing to do. Regarding Jay, I think that he can log lots of ice time. He has that natural skating ability, plus he just doesn’t get tired. You saw practice (Monday) morning — I don’t know if he even broke a sweat.”
Against the Oilers, Bouwmeester collected two shots and two points, going plus-two in the process.
“If Saturday’s game is the new standard for Jay, I have no problem,” said Hartley. “He was dominant. He skated so well. His speed allows him to take chances, because his speed allows him to recover. There’s very few defencemen in this league that can bring this to a team. We want to exploit this to our advantage. With the experience he has in this league, he’s capable of big things for us.”
DECK HEAD HERE
The Flames are currently enjoying — or, at least, the coaching staff is currently enjoying — a four-day break between matches.
The scheduling, after Sunday’s day off, allows for three full practices.
“I think it will definitely help,” said Hartley. “That’s what I told the boys (Monday) in the meeting — one of the objectives . . . is to run a review of our first camp. It’s learning process for everyone. I give those guys credit because their attitude is unbelievable. They’re on the job, they’re positive.”
After this week, the most time the Flames have between dates is two days.
“Look at February — we have 14 games,” said Hartley. “You subtract the time we’ll need to sleep and eat, and I don’t know if we have any other free time on our hands. But this is the same thing for other teams. We’re trying to fast-forward all the teaching, all the preparation, we can do.”
However, players, being players, want to play.
“You get a win,” said Lee Stempniak, “you want to get back out there and keep going. But there is still a lot of things we’re trying to grasp within the system. (This break) allows us to do some drills that mimic game situations and really isolate those things.”
DECK HEAD HERE
After bagging their first victory, there had been definitely a sunny mood at Flames practice. No one, however, was doing cartwheels.
“You guys know it as well as we do — three years without playoffs, we can’t be happy about one game,” said Hartley, whose group is now 1-2-1. “One game is far from 48. We have a long way to go, but I like what we’re doing.”
DECK HEAD HERE
Winger Alex Tanguay did not participate in Monday’s skate.
“Maintenance,” explained Hartley. “He’s going to be good for (Tuesday).”
For the session, Steve Begin took Tanguay’s place on the first line between wingers Curtis Glencross and Jarome Iginla.
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald