Hartley singles out goaltending as reason behind inspired Flames play of late
It’s a surprising answer when the pervading thought is the advantage of competing with nothing on the line
Calgary Flames goalie Joey MacDonald, left, is congratulated by fellow goalie Miikka Kiprusoff after giving up only one goal during a 4-1 win over Minnesota last Sunday. Bob Hartley has singled out improved goaltending as the No. 1 reason by the Flames are playing inspired hockey down the stretch.
Photograph by: Jim Mone, AP
ST. LOUIS — This is the kind of pace that would have propelled the Calgary Flames into the starry heights of the Western Conference’s top eight.
It’s worth investigating.
But getting to the bottom of the bountiful stretch is not easy.
Like, how did the Flames win six of their last nine games? A span that includes more than one triumph against playoff-desperate clubs. How is it possible?
Coach Bob Hartley doesn’t hesitate to supply an answer (and assign blame).
“We’re getting goaltending,” says Hartley. “I think that’s the biggest difference in our game right now. You look at our last five, six games. If we get that goaltending (all season), we’re probably a playoff team. When you get goaltending, suddenly — whoop — the system looks better — whoop — the defencemen look better, the penalty killing looks better, and you’re winning hockey games. It all starts from there.”
Interesting, because that is not the answer anyone else had expected.
Many observers attribute the Flames’ recent run to their status as non-contenders — the advantage of getting to compete with nothing on the line.
But Hartley disagrees, claiming that being pressure-free accounts for “maybe five per cent” of their success. However, the timing of the upgraded results coincides with a relaxed bearing around the dressing room.
So, no doubt, that helps.
“It’s such a fine line between caring enough and caring too much,” says Chris Butler. “A lot of times I think you can over-think things, you can over-analyze things, so when you get out there, your mind is sometimes blurred with ideas . . . instead of letting your god-given abilities take over. I look at the way we’re playing now — we’re making plays, we’re making passes. We’re not just rimming pucks around and icing the puck.
“It felt like for the better part of the season we were often chasing the game instead of letting it come to us.”
Too bad the Flames can’t take this attitude, bottle it, then uncork it in October.
“It’s not impossible,” Butler continues. “It’s a culture you have to create as a group of players. You have to gain the respect of your coaching staff and show them that we can work hard, but we can do it with a smile on our face, we can do it enjoying each other’s company, having fun and laughing along the way — as long as we show up and compete every single night. When you’re goofing around and joking around, then you don’t go out and play well, it looks terrible.
“But when you go out and play loose, I think that’s when everybody’s at their best. You’re not thinking, you’re purely reacting and letting your natural instincts take over, which I think is the best way to play the game.”
Sven Baertschi takes issue with that notion.
An expectation-free environment? That’s not how he currently sees it — at least for newcomers.
“For certain guys, it is looser because they know they just want to finish the season,” says Baertschi, 20. “But for us young guys here? It’s a lot of pressure. Like now we get a chance. Who gets a chance like that? No one else really gets a chance like we do right now. So the pressure’s on us and we’ve got to make something happen out there. Maybe you should ask some of the older guys, because I feel the pressure’s on me. I’ve got a lot of things to make up for right now. Because I didn’t start well, at least I want to finish well.
“Every individual guy in here has different looks at it right now. The young guys, we have more pressure to show that we’re ready for next year.”
“If you want to be an NHL player and you don’t want pressure? You’re in the wrong business,” says the coach. “Pressure’s part of this game. You have to take this pressure and transform it into a positive challenge. For me, pressure is negative. (Make it) positive — that you want to do well, that you want to be a difference-maker. If pressure scares you, maybe you’re not meant to be in the NHL.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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