SUN Hockey Pool

Babchuk, Kotalik check in

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

CHICAGO — A couple of Calgary Flames’ firsts came in the losing cause Sunday night in the Windy City.

Not that anyone was about to celebrate them after the 4-2 drop to the host Chicago Blackhawks.

Ales Kotalik suited up for his first game of the NHL regular season after a serious knee injury landed him on long-term injured reserve in the team’s last exhibition contest against the Edmonton Oilers.

Anton Babchuk scored his first with the Flames — a solid one-timer on the powerplay that rocketed into the top shelf past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.

“It’s disappointing because we lost,” Babchuk said with a shrug. “I’d be more happy if we win.”

Kotalik didn’t play a whole lot, but he managed to be a bit of a physical presence over the first couple of periods, leading both teams with five hits through 40 minutes.

No goals or assists for the pre-season sniper, who finished with 8:30 of ice time, but he was happy to be on the ice at all.

“It was a long time, and I’m just excited — I’m just happy to be out there again and be playing, because it could have ended up way worse than it did,” said the 31-year-old.

“It was a lot of special teams, so I didn’t get out there much.”

He felt better as the game went on and thought less and less about his knee.

“I don’t really have a problem with the knee,” Kotalik said. “When you fall down, you’ve got to be careful not to sit on it, on your heels. You have to be aware of that.

“Otherwise, the ligaments don’t bother me as much as the brace does, but that’s how it’s got to be.”

His coach was fine with the way he returned to lineup, knowing there are a few steps to make to find that comfort level he had during an impressive pre-season.

“He got some legs under him. He was fine,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “But I didn’t expect (him to stand out). He hasn’t played since the start of the year, so it’s gonna take him a little bit to find that.”

The Czech, who scored three goals, five points and a shootout winner in four exhibition games, says he’s ready to put in the effort.

“You’ve got to work through it the same way as I worked through all that rehab.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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