Coach Hartley sounds the alarm on his sleepy Flames
Bench boss needs to see more consistency out of his top players, not listless, floating play
For their juddering start, for their erratic ways, for their current plight, the Calgary Flames are not expecting any get-well cards.
They are on their own.
Sincere back-pats are few in the National Hockey League.
“No one cares about us,” coach Bob Hartley snarled in the steaming aftermath of his club’s latest clunker — a near-no-show 4-0 loss Monday to the home-ice Phoenix Coyotes. “There’s 30 teams and you have to make your own nest.”
That nest, right now, is not anywhere close to the top of the Western Conference spruce. Roosting near the roots with a mediocre 5-6-3 record, the Flames have sprinkled their wins over the season’s opening four weeks. Never more than two in a row — and that only once.
Success for this lot is frequently followed by failure.
Case in point — the recent road trip.
In Dallas, the Flames, despite a soft middle, are strong early and very strong late. As a result, they gut out a 4-3 triumph on three third-period strikes.
Next night, they reek.
Monday’s stumble, in front of newbie netminder Danny Taylor, was ugly. Offensive pushback, aside from one snappy-looking power play, was nil. A goal against on the first shift managed to stand up as the winner. That’s sad.
“We’re seeing great things and suddenly we fall asleep,” Hartley had continued as bags were being packed for the undoubtedly quiet charter flight home. “We think we’re going to get some gifts. This game is not about gifts. This game is about working and being the best team out there.”
The fourth unit, at least, is doing its part.
Coming off a fruitful third period in Dallas, the trio of Tim Jackman, Blake Comeau and Steve Begin didn’t let up in the desert. Plenty of gusto.
Bravo for them. It was the kind of peppy performance that should have shamed the other forwards, particularly the top-enders.
“Our whole line did some good things,” said Jackman, who meted out a game-high eight hits, including four in his three-shift first period. “But, obviously, not good enough. We had some opportunities to cut the lead, but we just weren’t able to finish. It was a disappointing night by our whole team.
“We have a great night in Dallas, then to come in here and play the way we did . . .”
This is Hartley’s first glimpse of the outfit’s in-season fluctuations. Everyone else in the city has seen it before, the dramatic ups and downs.
Now the new skipper is getting an eyeful.
Four times has his bunch had a chance to get over .500. Four times has his bunch flopped in the next game.
“It’s very simple what it’s going to take — it’s going to take consistent effort,” said Hartley. “I shared this with the players. You can’t expect to work one game, then take one night off, thinking you’re going to become a playoff team.”
Added Lee Stempniak: “Obviously, you have that taste of success and see how well we can play, then you regress and don’t live up to it. We can see in the video when we’re doing things well and when we’re not. We have a pulse on it and we know it from period to period within the room. Right now, I guess we’re failing to make the corrections to come out and bring it every night.”
For Wednesday, motivation should be high. The Stanley Cup champions roll into town.
And in case the arrival of the Los Angeles Kings doesn’t jazz the locals, they would do well to remember the last time they faced a sitting champ.
A year ago in Boston, then-coach Brent Sutter, sensing something amiss in the morning skate, had halted the proceedings. Gathering his lads at the far end of the rink, he reminded them that, against the NHL’s reigning kingpins, anything less than a supreme effort would result in embarrassment. That evening, warning unheeded, the Flames absorbed a 9-0 paddling.
This season, there’s been nothing that rotten. Yet.
But nothing, longer than a day or three, has been very hot, either.
How, Stempniak is asked outside the visitors’ dressing room at Jobing.com Arena, can the Flames find an acceptable level of consistency?
“Every team, to a certain extent, is looking for the answer to that question,” he replied. “For us, it’s just bigger swings (of good and bad). If you look at the game as being 60 minutes — instead of just the ebb and flow, from shift to shift — you can maintain your composure and be a little bit more patient, knowing that you have 60 minutes to get the win, not ride the highs and lows so much.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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