Struggling to form an identity early this season, the Calgary Flames know one key element involves the way they perform at home.
Making the Saddledome a hostile environment for the opposition is something they talk about often.
Putting it into practice, however, takes a lot more effort.
Actually, effort is all it takes to make it happen.
With five straight games in front of the Sea of Red over the next couple of weeks, the Flames have an opportunity to rebound from their disappointing home record of a year ago.
They went 20-17-4 at the Dome in Brent Sutter’s first year behind the bench.
Only the Boston Bruins (18), Atlanta Thrashers (19), Toronto Maple Leafs (18), St. Louis Blues (18), Edmonton Oilers (18) and Florida Panthers (16) won fewer games on home ice.
Thanks to goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff’s stellar 2009-10 season, they were among the league’s lowest in terms of goals allowed on home ice, but they were dead last with just 95 goals scored at the Saddledome.
It’s not something Sutter wants to talk about now, but you can bet he wants to make the Dome a more threatening place to play.
“We know what happened last year,” Sutter said after a 6-2 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus Friday, not really wanting to address the topic.
“We’ve done some good things at home (this season). We had one game that we didn’t play as well as we would have liked to, but other than that, we’ve done some pretty good things at home, too.
“We’ll be fine.”
Sitting first in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference when they awoke Saturday morning with a 4-3 record, the Flames have an opportunity now to start fresh.
They can erase that inconsistent opening to their season and build on their encouraging status in the standings, but the five-game homestand won’t be easy.
After Sunday’s date with the San Jose Sharks (6 p.m., Sportsnet), the Flames host a pair of division rivals — the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday and the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night — then a couple of the league’s best in the Washington Capitals next Saturday and Detroit Red Wings the following Wednesday.
“We don’t have any easy games,” said winger Rene Bourque. “We want to be good at home. We obviously didn’t have the record we wanted to have (last year).
“We need to make it a tough place to play and we need to have good starts.”
Good starts, a physical presence, and maybe most of all, finish off opponents.
“We want to show people we’re better than a .500 hockey club,” said centre Olli Jokinen. “I think last year we were really good on the road and very average at home. This year, we won two out of three at home (already), so we’ve got to keep doing that.”
More of what they did against the Jackets would go a long way in ensuring a better record at home. Contributions from their star players, a heavy dose of puck possession, solid defence and goaltending, and a work ethic worthy of fan approval were all on display in their last road game.
“We’ve got to play the way we played (Friday night),” Jokinen added. “No matter if it’s home or on the road.”