Sutter needs Flames stars to buy into system

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:33 PM ET

Screaming at his players during practice, Brent Sutter was doing his best to get the message to sink in.

If all it takes is repetition, you’d think they’d have absorbed it by now.

It’s Sutter’s second season behind the bench, and the Calgary Flames’ stars are still struggling to buy into the way he wants them to play.

Trying to take shortcuts with and without the puck, the individualistic attempts were all too evident on the ice in Thursday’s season opener in Edmonton — culminating in a 4-0 loss to the Oilers.

“That was the big thing we addressed so much last year, was that we’re lazy. You’ve got to work harder as forwards,” Sutter said.

“When that happens and everybody kind of gets on their own programs and we get away from what we’re about as a team and our structure falls away from us, you see what happens.”

It’s never good.

There are plenty of examples from last season. Plenty more will come if they don’t figure things out soon.

Sunday’s home-opener against the Los Angeles Kings may be just Game 2 of 82 this season, but the bad habits from a year ago have carried over.

“We want to be a hard-working team. We don’t want to be a team that’s just comfortable in how we play as far as we’re in this comfort level and it’s just OK,” Sutter said during an honest chat with reporters at the Saddledome Friday afternoon.

“It’s not OK. It’s not OK to play the way we did (Thursday) night. I’m not happy about it, they shouldn’t be happy about it, and we need to respond the right way from it.”

The players weren’t happy with it, but they’re the only ones who can do something about it. And it starts with the stars. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Niklas Hagman, Brendan Morrison and Rene Bourque couldn’t muster up any offence, mostly because they didn’t play smart.

“I think our effort was there, but upstairs, we weren’t really focused,” said Bourque. “Our effort was there, but our smarts weren’t. We just didn’t come ready to play. Mentally, we were in la-la land, it felt like.”

Hanging out by the opposition blueline while the puck was still well behind theirs, standing still, and positionally out to lunch, the offences stymied the offence.

“I thought our third and fourth line played well.

I thought we had a lot of skill guys that were way below average (Thursday) night, bottom line,” Sutter said.

“They played a skill game with not a lot of jam.

“You’ve got to rely on those guys. They’re your offensive guys. You have to have them. They’ve got to compete hard, but they can’t, each one of them can’t be on their own agendas. We have to be on the same page.

“We need everyone playing. We can’t just have certain guys going out there and doing what they need to

do and others not playing up to their potential ... We’ve got to have everyone doing it the right way.”

If it sounds like a familiar plea, it probably is. There’s time to rectify the problem, but it will take commitment. For some, the first step is admitting there’s a problem.

Because of an improved second period, the Flames fired 37 shots at Nikolai Khabibulin. Many of them, though, weren’t big scoring opportunities.

“I don’t think we did enough around the net. We didn’t compete hard in those tough areas,” Sutter said.

Defensively, the team was terrible, too, and that was a product of the same trend. Not playing smart with the puck. Playing even worse without it.

“We still need to work at it, there’s no question,” said Iginla.

Technically, there’s plenty of time. But with so much that has already passed with this core group, you have to wonder if that’s all they need.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


Videos

Photos