Flames must win three in a row to stay on track in Hartley’s plan
Head coach has broken season up into seven-game segments and NHL club must get nine points in each to make the playoffs
Lucky Sven? Not so far (not with young Baertschi’s recent injury).
Lucky sevens? Not so far. But that’s what the Calgary Flames are banking on.
Coach Bob Hartley appraised his team’s 48-game slate and carved it into seven seven-date chunks (the math nearly works). Nine points mined from each wedge would push the Flames beyond the 60-point threshold. That total, it figures, would set them up nicely on the Western Conference table.
Now all they have to do is . . . well, do it.
“(Hartley) had the math all settled for us,” said Curtis Glencross, whose team is 1-2-1 so far in National Hockey League play. “Obviously, we’re short (of points) on our segment right now.”
The tactic is nothing new.
NHL coaches love to slice schedules into bite-sized pieces. Three games, five, eight, even 10. (In 2003-04, Darryl Sutter reimagined the final 28 dates as four seven-game sets, which represents a Stanley Cup run — and everyone knows what happened that spring.)
“Any team you’re on, usually they try to do that,” said Jay Bouwmeester, “so you’re not focused on the big picture. If you can just chip away — win two out of three, three out of four — you’re going to be in a good spot at the end of the day.”
The Flames, with four days since their last assignment, resume their season-opening segment Thursday against the visiting Colorado Avalanche. (To reach their goal of nine points, they need to win Thursday, Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks and Tuesday against the home-ice Detroit Red Wings.)
The pace will be hectic. Would you believe 44 tilts over 86 days?
Somewhat of a silver lining is the fact that the local side has games in hand on every squad in the conference — actually, on every team in the league.
“Now it’s time for the grind,” said Glencross. “Every team’s going to go through that, where they have games on top of games on top of games.
“Everyone’s going to have them stretches.”
Aware of the crunch, the Flames had nevertheless welcomed the break that permitted one day off, then three straight mornings of practice.
“Weird,” said Bouwmeester. “I never thought we’d have four (non-game) days all year. Especially early in the year, it seems a little strange.”
But for this bunch — without the luxury of a pre-season, with the arrival of a new coach — timing had been ideal for training-camp rehash.
“Lots of details,” said Hartley. “The guys are adjusting very well. It’s going to get to a point where it’s automatic. That fraction of a second (of hesitation) is going to go away. It’s going to be more instinct than just going out there and thinking. I want the guys to be able to be free out there, to feel good, to react instinctively instead of over-thinking the game.”
But they’ve been thinking this week, busily soaking up all of Hartley’s instructions.
“Hopefully, it’s beneficial,” said Bouwmeester. “Any time you can practise and really focus on certain things . . . instead of just trying to fix it overnight and just playing another game, it stands to help you in the long run.”
(Alex Tanguay, who performed for Hartley in Colorado, was exempt from the crash-course approach. “It’s like getting back into an old pair of shoes — you know how comfortable they’re going to get.”)
Hartley’s system, as everyone knows, features a high-tempo attack. So, according to Blake Comeau, if you’re ever in doubt on the ice . . . .
“Just go and be aggressive — he doesn’t want anyone being passive,” said Comeau. “I don’t think he’s trying to reinvent anything. There’s forecheck stuff that I’m sure other teams are doing. When we say ‘different’ (system), it’s different (only) in the sense of some things we did last year. We just have to get acquainted with it. I like it. It’s an aggressive style — he wants guys to go.”
An undesired byproduct of the week’s practices are the injuries to forwards Roman Cervenka and Baertschi.
Hartley, however, is unfazed.
As a coach, he’s accustomed to juggling on the fly.
“Line combinations, I don’t go crazy with this,” said Hartley. “I always write them with a pencil. They’re easy to erase and start again. Lots of time, it’s a gut feeling behind the bench. Right now, I like the chemistry that I see.”
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