First-line centre Elias Lindholm says “a lot has changed” for the Calgary Flames during their recent roll.
Head coach Ryan Huska insists the difference isn’t that drastic.
The results have certainly taken a significant turn. Since finally snapping out of a six-game losing skid, the Flames have rebounded with a 4-1-1 record in their past half-dozen dates.
While they haven’t quite erased the damage done during that extended funk, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged.
“Lately, we have been playing better, starting to see better signs out there of what we want to do,” said Lindholm, who popped for three points — a goal and two helpers — in Thursday’s 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. “We’re coming.
“I think we’re following the system more, more dialled in, winning more battles and we’re working harder. There are a lot of good teams in this league, and you’re not going to win just on skill. We are one of those teams that need to work harder than the other team to win games. I think we’re starting to realize that.”
It’s hard to believe this new season is still less than six weeks old.
There’s already been no shortage of storylines around the Saddledome, from suspensions and slumps to a benching for their highest-paid forward and a trade request from their hardest-hitting defenceman. There was a rumoured re-signing, then talk of a teardown. The rebuild debate isn’t done yet.
However, as the Flames prepare for Saturday’s showdown with the New York Islanders (5 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), it does feel like they’ve turned a corner.
That doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory — it’s troublesome that they don’t have a single dude among the Top-100 in the league scoring race — but the positives are starting to pile up.
During that six-game swoon, the Flames were outscored by a 24-9 margin. Since then, they’ve surrendered a much more respectable 2.67 goals per game. While starting puck-stopper Jacob Markstrom continues to be their top performer, he hasn’t needed to stand on his head. (Montreal’s Josh Anderson, robbed during Tuesday’s late stages, may disagree.)
Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev, both alternate captains, are proud that this team has shown more composure of late. They believe that’s a key reason they’ve followed a sour six-pack with something that goes down a whole lot smoother.
Nazem Kadri pointed out that there was an adjustment period after the switch to a new scheme. As he put it: “I think we’re just understanding systematically and our structure and how exactly we have to play to be successful, and it’s working.”
MacKenzie Weegar figures they deserve credit for staying positive despite the early gloom-and-doom, while everybody seems to agree that the call-ups from the AHL’s Wranglers — Martin Pospisil and Connor Zary up front and Nick DeSimone on defence — have bolstered the depth and provided a blast of energy.
“Wins or losses, you want to look at how you’re playing and the pace you’re playing the game with,” said big-minute blue-liner Noah Hanifin. “I think, right now, we’re just playing a totally different game. We’re playing a lot faster and we’re playing more together as a unit on the ice, and that’s what has given us success.
“We’re winning now, but what’s more important is that we’re playing the right way and we’re heading in the right direction.”
On Thursday, after his squad cooled off the Canucks, Huska stressed this wasn’t some sort of 180-degree turn.
“It’s small. There isn’t a lot,” Huska replied when asked to compare the two six-game segments. “In a lot of those games (during the skid), we felt like we were playing well and there was always one or two mistakes that cost us games. And when you start feeling better about yourself, someone is backing up your mistake instead of someone is pointing fingers.
“That’s the fine line between winning and losing, and that’s why it is so hard to win in this league. But when you’re feeling good, you want to continue to try to run with it as long as you can.”
Indeed, with an overall record of 6-8-2, the Flames can’t afford another slide anytime soon.
Their worst stretch of this season needs to be behind them.
“I think, at this point, we understand the recipe,” Kadri said. “Especially lately, I’ve loved the way we’ve started games and, more importantly, finished them. We’ve fought back from behind a couple times. A few times trailing in the games, not scoring the first goal, but still finding ways to win. Those are all good things to see.
“Sometimes, when you’re not getting the results, it can be a little discouraging. But now, just starting to pile up wins and doing it in the fashion that we’re doing it, I think we’re in a good mindset.”
On X: @WesGilbertson
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to email@example.com