SUN Hockey Pool

Flames working for a win streak

Flames' Cory Sarich says team training is about getting their heads in the right place. (Darren...

Flames' Cory Sarich says team training is about getting their heads in the right place. (Darren Makowichuk/SUN MEDIA)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Duplicating NHL history is the Calgary Flames best chance at being a playoff team this spring.

Especially if they can replicate their November to remember.

The Flames racked up a 10-2-2 record over November — that spell is the why they’re on the cusp of a playoff spot — and a big key was the load of practice time they had in the second half of October.

Before going on that run, which adds up to one-third of the team’s victories this season, the Flames went through what essentially became a second training camp, with just five games in 21 days, all at home.

“This is a little different,” said Flames defenceman Cory Sarich. “We were still doing a lot of teaching in October. This is more review and getting your mind in the right place.”

Having practised six of the seven days heading into Wednesday’s clash against the Minnesota Wild, they were again able to do plenty of review. It was needed when you consider the six new faces to the roster.

Recent trades brought in forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ales Kotalik, Christopher Higgins and Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White.

Deals leading up to the break blueliner Dion Phaneuf and forwards Olli Jokinen, Fredrik Sjostrom and Brandon Prust dispatched elsewhere.

No longer do they feel like newcomers thrown into the fray without much time to get their bearings.

Now, they feel part of the team and have a firm grasp of the expectations from head coach Brent Sutter.

“The first three games, I was still learning a lot of things,” Higgins admitted. “Some people think you come to a team and just fit right in, but it’s a different style than we were playing in New York and different personnel. The practices sure help.

“You’ve got to feel comfortable enough where it’s an instinct what you have to do, and that wasn’t the case all the time before the break.”

The first couple of days on ice following their Olympic break were mainly to shake off the rust from 10 days off.

The last few were spent working on system play, with more onus on using a puck possession game and making plays at high speed.

“We know the level of play is going to pick up, and we have to be sure we’re at that level,” Sutter said.

“That’s the way we handled practices. We want to do this stuff and do it at top pace.”

Only time will tell whether the mini-camp of the past week pays dividends, but at least the Flames believe the pieces can fall together well enough over their final 20 regular-season games for them to climb into the playoff picture.

“I like how we were playing going into the break. We were 3-2-1 but played some pretty good hockey in that time,” Sutter said. “We’re in a good frame of mind. We’re capable of doing it. We’ve shown it, and the challenge is there for us. We need to step up.”

It’s exactly what those fresh faces expect from having a firm grasp of their team and their surroundings.

Ales Kotalik believes he and linemates Higgins and Daymond Langkow will have the edge to be more productive.

“I think we’re playing good hockey and creating a lot of chances, but not lucky in the finish,” Kotalik said.

“We needs some breaks and pucks to go in, and I think we can do some really good things for this team.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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