Weekend gauntlet in California no paradise trip for Flames
With games against Anaheim, L.A. and L.A. again, Calgary’s recent hot streak will be put to the test
Surely, even a shovel and an acre of snowdrifts would be more fun than this.
The Calgary Flames, on one of those rare occasions when a winter swing through southern California isn’t appealing, face a far-from-sunny weekend of work.
They are scheduled to square off with the big and the bad, three times in all.
Friday, it’s the Anaheim Ducks — the second-best outfit in the National Hockey League — in a barn where the Flames haven’t won since Jan. 19, 2004.
If that isn’t enough, the Calgarians then take on the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings — twice, Saturday and Monday.
“A huge road trip for our team,” said Chris Butler. “We talk about breaking our season down into little (seven-game) segments, and this segment, with this chunk of road games, could be the most important one for us this season.
“To get a couple wins on this trip — and to play well — would be huge for our confidence going forward.”
Expect the travellers to be tested in the corners and alleys.
The Ducks average 204 pounds. The Kings check in at 210 pounds — making them the heaviest group in the NHL.
Pegged at 199 pounds, the Flames represent the lightest collection of players in the Western Conference. (On the other side of the league’s table, Philadelphia, Montreal and the New York Islanders are also sub-200.)
“Not by any means are we going to beat teams physically,” Alex Tanguay said earlier in the week. “We haven’t been built that way and we’re not that type of team. We’re a skating team. In order for us to have success, we need to be able to use our legs, move the puck, be aggressive, and really use our speed to our advantage.”
Asked about the benefits of stature, Michael Cammalleri laughed.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” said Cammalleri, five foot nine and listed at 190 pounds. “Size disadvantage or advantage? I don’t really look at it that way. We’re in a team sport. If we play well, if we play our game, we can beat anybody.”
A modest two-game winning streak has staked the team to a 9-8-4 record. Friday, it can grow to three victories, the longest spree of the winter.
“We’ve been rewarded,” said Butler. “But it would have been nice to string together a longer run with the games in Minnesota and Colorado. Those were games we let slip away and we can’t afford to let points slip away in that manner. But it’s such a short season, it’s nice. You play every other night so you don’t have time to sit around and dwell on games that got away from you or mistakes that you made. To be able to come home and get a couple of wins (over Vancouver and San Jose) was great.”
Thanks to their fourth straight home-ice triumph, the Flames, for the first time this season, have poked their noses above the break-even point.
Not that Bob Hartley could be found handspringing around the Saddledome corridors.
“I don’t care about .500,” the Flames coach said. “It’s to be in the playoffs. That’s my main goal. All the other stuff, that’s good for you guys — you fill your TV time and your papers — but I was hired to bring this team to the playoffs.
“Those guys (on our team), I feel it, they want to be in the playoffs. We still have lots of work to do.”
Starting with Friday’s assignment.
The Flames arrive at the Honda Center haunted by a crummy past — 15 straight regular-season losses (0-10-5) in this rink.
Sure, many nights have been close.
But as Hartley himself has noted, close counts only in curling.
“I never look in the past,” he said. “Whether it’s good or bad, every game is a different situation. I think that we’re becoming a different team and we’re going to have a chance to prove it again. It’s all a matter of 20 guys putting their mind to work and doing it for the best of the team.”
Flames’ horrid history here aside, no one is having much luck lately against the Ducks, 16-3-3 (9-1-0 at home).
“That’s a team that’s playing extremely well right now,” said Butler. “They’re a deep team, getting contributions from a lot of different guys. We’re going to have to play solid and we’re going to have to take care of the puck.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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