Ice empty more than a half-hour after practice was scheduled to start at the Saddledome, those waiting for the Calgary Flames to emerge from the tunnel had a familiar feeling.
It was just like the Oct. 15 session at the Westside Recreation Centre, where the team had a lengthy meeting following an abysmal showing against the Florida Panthers the night before.
This time, though, it wasn’t followed by a quick twirl on the ice.
The Flames players were put through the paces Friday with fast-paced passing drills followed by competitive and physical battles, and topped off by a gruelling skate.
“What we did in practice today was play our third period,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s what we did.”
His team hasn’t been doing that the last couple of games, allowing both the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche to come back from deficits in the third period.
The Flames squeaked past the Oilers in a shootout Tuesday, but dropped a 6-5 decision to the Avs Thursday.
It’s great the Flames are scoring, averaging five per game over their last four contests, but it’s clearly coming at the expense of sound team defence as they’ve allowed 10 goals against in their last two games.
Half of them in the third period.
If Thursday was a test following Tuesday’s disappointment, the Flames failed.
So class was back in session Friday.
“Today was strictly a teaching session. We went through things (from Thursday) night we know we can be better at and went through things we did well. It’s coaching,” Sutter said.
“We ended up being a few minutes late on the ice.”
OK, maybe more than a few minutes late — the team took the ice more than an hour after the originally scheduled 11 a.m. time slot — but the coach wants to play down the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with his team.
So do the players.
“Our first month is definitely a lot of learning as a team,” said captain Jarome Iginla.
“It’s a lot of teaching and (going) back over some of our mistakes and some of the good things we did, too. We’ve been doing that, especially after losses.
“It’s part of the business and part of the game. Playing in Canada, everything is magnified. After three games, people were writing us off and saying we’re a terrible team. We were a period away (Thursday) from being
7-3. We could be and should be in a better position than we are right now.
“In our first 10 games, it’s not all bad. There’s been a lot of good things.”
You can’t dispute that.
A 6-4 record 10 games into a season is as good as last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals, also Saturday night’s Flames opponent.
But Sutter still made sure to send his skaters a message by making them skate hard.
“I think the message is that we’ve got to work for an entire 60 minutes,” said veteran Brendan Morrison.
“There’s no question the coach is sending a message,” agreed Iginla.
“We get up in those couple of games and our compete level dropped off. I think that’s a big part of the message he’s sending.
“It’s a message of getting that battle up and sticking with it the whole game.”
Consider it a cramming session for their next test.