CALGARY — Looming less than a month away, the Olympic break will give the Calgary Flames a good idea of what their chances are come spring.
They could climb back into the division lead, or find themselves scratching and clawing for one of the final seeds — or worse. A stretch of 11 games in 19 nights will go a long way in determining their fate this season.
“We’re not the most skilled team in the league, but that doesn’t mean we can’t beat the most skilled team in the league,” winger Eric Nystrom said about the Flames’ six-game losing streak and seemingly season-long challenge of filling the net.
Forget the most skilled teams, the Flames have to start with the St. Louis Blues Monday at the Saddledome.
From there, another seven of the Flames’ 10 pre-Olympic matchups come against teams outside playoff positions as of Sunday morning.
The Flames were fortunate enough to wake up in eighth spot because of a game in hand over the Detroit Red Wings, who lost Saturday and dropped to ninth in the Western Conference.
“These are teams that are either right behind us or just a little bit ahead of us,” Flames centre Craig Conroy said of the sprint to the Olympic break. “Going into this next stretch, there’s not gonna be any easy games, but we’ve got to come with a mindset that we’re gonna win the game, and have the confidence that we’re gonna win it, no matter what happens.
“If they score first, we’re gonna come back. We’re gonna be the more physical team, and we’re gonna come with some energy and play with some fire.”
Strong words, but they’ve been heard before.
Actions will tell fans whether desperation has truly set in with this team.
“We’ve got to make a move now to get away from that bottom. You don’t want to get lucky,” Conroy said. “We want to control our own destiny, and that’s by starting to win games.”
Winning is, of course, the goal, but the team has also set standards for both play on the ice and spot in the standings for when the Vancouver Games kick off next month.
“The coaching staff has come in and discussed it. All us players, we should have our own goals in mind of where we want to be,” said defenceman Robyn Regehr.
“I think that’s important.”
Games against the Blues, Stars, Coyotes, Oilers, Flyers, Hurricanes, Panthers, Lightning, Senators and Ducks don’t sound as challenging as recent dates against the Blackhawks and Sharks. The way the Flames have been playing, they won’t take anyone lightly, certainly not the Blues.
“I don’t think it matters who you play, every game is going to be like a playoff game. There’s not too many teams that are out of it yet,” said defenceman Mark Giordano. “And even them, they’re trying to play for jobs, and guys are playing hard.”
At this point, the Flames should be playing for more than jobs. As a pre-season favourite to do some serious damage in the playoffs, they know they have their work cut out for them to live up to even their own expectations.
“We have to put ourselves in a position where we’re in a playoff spot, and where we can separate ourselves from some of the teams below us,” said winger Rene Bourque. “It’s important for us to get on a roll.”
That would be the perfect way to enter the break.