SUN Hockey Pool

Goal-oriented ... as usual

STEVE MACFARLANE, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 PM ET

It’s been nearly five months since the Calgary Flames have strung together three games as exciting as their current winning streak.

Scoring 14 times in victories over the New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings, the Flames are showing the kind of offensive spark not seen since a 16-goal output over three contests back in mid-October.

Questions came fast and furious at head coach Brent Sutter Wednesday afternoon at the Saddledome.

What has changed to ignite the offence?

“Our work ethic,” Sutter said, dismissing suggestions he’s loosened the reins on his forwards or changed his approach to the game. “You don’t get much in this game unless you do work hard, unless there is a work ethic.

“We haven’t changed anything as far as our systems or anything like that.”

One TV-type who finds it hard to believe the players haven’t been given some sort of green light to get creative piped up from the crowd.

Sutter fired a question right back at him.

“Do you not think that’s what was put in place in September?” a grinning Sutter asked rhetorically. “They’ve had the green light all year.”

They just haven’t been able to step on the gas consistently.

Something has certainly changed, but it’s nowhere near as complicated as systems or strategy.

It’s a mindset. A consciousness. An air of confidence.

“We’re being an assertive team — something that we wanted to be all year. Instead of playing on our heels, we’re playing on our toes,” Sutter said. “It seems to be working for them now.

“Maybe it’s taken some time for everyone to realize and understand this is how we want to play, this is how we need to play.

“We’ve never held them back here at all to go out there and produce offensively. We just want to make sure they’re responsible and accountable when they don’t have the puck. And when they have it, be smart.

“That’s the difference right now — we’re playing an intelligent game.”

Yes, Sutter still believes in doing things the right way. He’s equally impressed by the commitment to defence — they’ve allowed just seven goals, including a couple of meaningless late markers — over the last few games.

“Am I still holding them accountable defensively? Darn rights I am,” Sutter said.

But he has also made sure to encourage the team to loosen up in the locker-room.

The message their head coach delivered was simple.

“It’s still a game,” said centre Craig Conroy. “We look so down and depressed all the time in the room, and quiet. You’re playing in the NHL. This is a dream come true. Enjoy it.

“That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Scoring helps. Winning ensures it.

“Win a few games, everyone feels good,” said blueliner Ian White. “The stress level’s down a little bit, and you’re not so uptight out there and scared to make the wrong plays.

“It’s a snowball effect.”

With every victory, what looked not so long ago like a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs gets a little injection of ice.


Videos

Photos