ST. PAUL — Ales Kotalik wasn’t surprised to be sitting out Monday night in the rematch.
The Calgary Flames winger and his linemates weren’t very good against the Minnesota Wild on the weekend, and the Flames have two extra bodies to throw into the rotation, so the fact he and his centre Mikael Backlund were both watching from the sidelines was almost expected in the second half of the home-and-home series.
“It’s not acceptable. We should be way better than that. We shouldn’t be surprised we’re not playing. We end up in the press box — that’s probably what’s been expected after how our line played last game,” said Kotalik, who has struggled in his seven regular-season contests since suffering a serious knee injury in his last pre-season game.
“You’re searching for that comfort out there. It seems it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that comfort and that movement … it’s just not where you need it to be,” added the 31-year-old winger, who won’t use his injury as an excuse. “Those ligaments are fine. The injury doesn’t bother me at all. Some other things bother me, and you’ve got to overcome those and try and find a way how to get in that position where you can help the team out on the ice.
“It just didn’t happen yet.”
Flames head coach Brent Sutter sympathizes with the difficulty of missing a big chunk of a season and trying to jump in like nothing happened but says the Flames don’t have time to let Kotalik find his legs.
He put veteran Craig Conroy into Monday’s lineup for the first time in nearly a month. Curtis Glencross also returned to action.
“We’re in a situation where we have to win hockey games and we need to dress our lineup that we think is the best lineup for that night against our opposition. Kotes probably has fought it a little bit,” Sutter said. “Maybe if we were in a little different situation, we can look at things a little bit differently. But we’re not. We have to win hockey games.
“Ales can be better. At the same time, we’re patient with him. It’s, again, making sure he’s in the right frame of mind mentally. He’s a very good player when he’s there.”
As for the 21-year-old Backlund, he’s found himself in this position recently but seemed a little more down about it this time around.
“After we didn’t play that good, I kinda knew that could happen, with Connie (Conroy) sitting out,” Backlund said. “It sucks, but there’s not much to do right now.”