Iain MacIntyre: Flames coach trying to ease pressure on his top line

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin is dumped along the boards by Calgary Flames #24 Jiri Hudler in the first period of the Game 2 of the Western Conference quarter final of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena, Vancouver April 17 2015.
 

Vancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin is dumped along the boards by Calgary Flames #24 Jiri Hudler in the first period of the Game 2 of the Western Conference quarter final of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena, Vancouver April 17 2015.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

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CALGARY – The Calgary Flames are winning at least one key matchup against the Vancouver Canucks: coach Bob Hartley is dominating Willie Desjardins in the press room.

Poorer by $50,000 after being fined by the National Hockey League for sending out his toughest players at the end of Game 2 to initiate a brawl when the score was 4-1 for the Canucks, Hartley had reporters laughing again after the skates here this morning.

He joked about needing to win the lottery and nobody making friends between games, then described the one-sided (so far) matchup of first lines centred by Flame Sean Monahan and Canuck Henrik Sedin like this: “Sean Monahan was six years old when the Sedins got in the league. While Monny was learning to ride his bike, the Sedins were starting to play in the NHL. That’s who we have.”

First-line comparisons are so lopsided, it’s easy to forget the teams’ National Hockey League playoff series is 1-1 heading to Game 3 here tonight.

Although they have produced only one goal, Sedin, brother Daniel and Alex Burrows have been dominant territorially while matched up mostly against the Flames’ Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler. The three Canucks are 34 years old.

“Two years ago, we decided on a rebuild,” Hartley continued. “And we went the right way. We’re not yet at the top of the mountains, but we have some great young players, we’re committed to play them, and they will play.

“(The Canucks) have experience. How will experience play out? I don’t know. I love our energy. Our energy brought us in the playoffs. (But) I can’t get in the dressing room and tell Monny and Johnny Gaudreau and all our young players, ‘suddenly, you’re veterans.’ We’re treating them like veterans, but this is a great learning experience while competing for a Stanley Cup. It’s priceless.”

Monahan is 20 and Gaudreau 21 and until Wednesday neither had played a Stanley Cup playoff game. But inexperience can’t explain the absolute disappearance of Hudler, a 31-year-old whose 68 career playoff games included a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

Through two games, Hudler’s even-strength Corsi-for is 37 per cent, meaning the Flames have been outshot roughly 2-1 while he is on the ice. Monahan’s Corsi is 40 per cent, Gaudreau’s 44. Henrik Sedin has a Corsi rating of 69, which is only five points higher than Danny Sedin and Burrows.

Asked specifically about Hudler, Hartley ran out of charming analogies, but gave a 120-word answer than did not include the words Jiri or Hudler.

With more playoff experience than his players, Hartley is doing everything he can to ease the pressure on his top line, which was the NHL’s highest-scoring unit the last six weeks of the regular season.

But everyone knows it has been a mismatch so far, including the players involved.

“Obviously, we want to be better than them,” Monahan said. “That’s our goal and I think we can do that. We’ve talked about it as a group and talked about it as a team. We know we’ve got to be better. . . me, Johnny and Huds, we’ve got to start producing more. And we’re going to do that.

“By the way we play and the minutes we play on this team, we’ve got to do more.”

Monahan and Gaudreau assisted on Kris Russell’s irrelevant goal near the end of Game 2 on Friday, but with Hudler have combined for just eight shots and a minus-10 rating in the series. The Sedin line has 19 shots and plus-three totals.

Henrik respects Hartley for trying to shield his first line from criticism.

“You put a lot of pressure on yourself,” he explained. “(When) you don’t get off to a good start and all of a sudden you start thinking a little bit. It’s easy to forget that it’s hockey. It’s not a huge difference than it is from the regular season, but every play is so important. I know where they are and I’m sure they’re going to come out and be hungry tonight. They’re going to play better.”

This will be the Flames’ first home playoff game since 2009. They have not won a playoff series since the franchise’s run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, the spring of the uninhibited Red Mile in Calgary.

Lineups appear to be unchanged from the first two games in Vancouver after the NHL, as expected, “managed” the triple game misconducts assessed Calgary Deryk Engelland at the end of Game 2 so the top-four defenceman would not be suspended.

But expect the Flames to play more physically, especially against the Sedins and the top Canuck defence pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev.

“When I get out there against their top lines, like I’ve said many times, I want to finish my checks,” Calgary’s wrecking-ball winger Michael Ferland said. “I want to give their top players hard minutes.”

Canuck coach Desjardins, who held Edler and defenceman Kevin Bieksa out of the morning skate for precautionary reasons, said: “There’s going to be some intensity here, and some emotion. The key with that is that you have the mind to keep it focused and where you want to go.”

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin is dumped along the boards by Calgary Flames #24 Jiri Hudler in the first period of the Game 2 of the Western Conference quarter final of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena, Vancouver April 17 2015.
 

Vancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin is dumped along the boards by Calgary Flames #24 Jiri Hudler in the first period of the Game 2 of the Western Conference quarter final of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena, Vancouver April 17 2015.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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