Johnson: Effort and strong play in tough defeat give Flames hope for road trip
Emery robbed Calgary blind in 3-2 Chicago triumph, but there’s plenty of good things for local NHL club to build on
Along with toothbrush, passport, change of socks and assorted dainties, there’s one other thing the Calgary Flames might want to pack in their designer luggage for the upcoming three-game trip.
“If we can take tonight’s game on the road with us,” promised Mikael Backlund late Saturday, still slightly bewildered as to how the evening had shaken down, “we’ll be OK.”
A game of skating and incessant offensive zone time. Of energy and enthusiasm. Of the willingness to take situations on and not shirk responsibility. Of shots lighting up the JumboTron like the score on a pinball machine with magic flippers.
The game they want to play.
If not the result they need to have.
Of course the Flames deserved a better fate Saturday. They were dreadfully unlucky not to bag two points instead of the single.
For understandable reasons, contesting their seventh game away from the United Center already, the Chicago Blackhawks appeared leaden-legged, slightly groggy even. Three in four nights and the second of back-to-backs on the road would snatch the starch from virtually any team.
Seizing the advantage, Calgary beat on goaltender Ray Emery’s door like a mob hitman come to collect on an overdue loan. Besides the barrage of 47 shots, there were posts dinged, crossbars skimmed, innumerable passes tipped away from the danger zone in the nick of time, near misses, claustrophobic traffic, wayward aims. Wild scrambles. Narrow escapes. You name it.
Either Emery actually performed like Terry Sawchuk or Calgary’s over-anxious shooters helped him resemble the iconic Hall of Famer.
“We played good but you’ve got to win games,” said Backlund flatly. “Bottom line. Yeah, (Emery) was sharp but at the same time me and Glennie both had open nets. On another day, we put those in. I don’t shoot myself in the foot every da, but this was one of those days.
“The first period against San Jose was strong, but for 60 minutes I’d say this was our best game. All three periods were strong.
“It sucks that we lost, but we’ve got to keep working. Things have to turn around if we continue to play like this.”
Perhaps, but marks for artistic merit aside, the stark reality is 1-3-2. Four points. Renting out space in the below-ground apartment in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference. Certainly not the standard of accommodation they’d envisioned before embarking on a five-in-six-at-home to kick off this abbreviated season.
The Flames already find themselves five points adrift of a playoff spot, albeit with games in hand on many of the teams they’re pursuing.
“We’ve got to take this game to the road,” echoed playmaker Alex Tanguay. “The way we played tonight should speak for itself. We’re still very close to the pack. We can’t afford to do what we’ve done for the last couple of years — fall 10 points back. Then we’ve got to really push and fall a couple points short of the playoffs.
“This is a big road trip for us.”
Yes, ‘tis. Already. Six games in.
And it’s anything but a straightforward journey. First out east to The Joe in Detroit, where the ageless, effortless Nick Lidstrom may have vacated the premises, but the mischief-making Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk still the roost; then on to Columbus, which, for some inexplicable reason, has become a veritable abbatoir for the locals; and finally Vancouver, at as luck would have it, a moment in time when the highly-fancied Canucks are beginning to find their feet and flex their pecs.
“If we play (this) way we’re going to win more games than we lose,” predicted defenceman Dennis Wideman. “If we create that many chances, have that many shots ... we’re going to be scoring more than three goals a game.
“I thought (Saturday) was a good bounce-back from the Colorado game. We were better in almost every area. We’ve been at home for a while now, and maybe we don’t have the record we’d like — we’d certainly prefer the numbers were flip-flopped — but I think it’ll be good for us to get out on the road now. And hopefully get some wins.”
So the preparatory checklist for the upcoming road trip goes this way: Get in an early practice Monday at the Corral, find, along with a toothbrush, passport and the dainties, a small corner of their suitcases to pack Saturday’s game and then head off to Canadian customs and a charter flight to the Motor City.
“They had their heads down,” acknowledged coach Bob Hartley during his post-loss media briefing. “But I told them this is the kind of hockey we want to play. The hockey gods might turn for us. They gave everything. I gave them credit. I’m very proud of them. We skated our best game of the season. We generated plenty of scoring chances. We just couldn’t get the big goal.
“I would’ve loved to get our guys, our players and our fans the win.
“That’s the only thing that was missing.”
And that, as early as it may seem in proceedings, has already become the only thing that matters.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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