SUN Hockey Pool

Wins for Flames now must-Avs

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:35 AM ET

Hey look, the Calgary Flames have a game on the schedule.

Lost in the hubbub surrounding Darryl Sutter’s departure from the GM chair and replacement by Jay Feaster — combined with the fact the team hasn’t played since Monday — was the NHL season’s normally scheduled programming.

New Year’s Eve brings an end to the lull for the Flames with a home clash against the Colorado Avalanche.

“I think everybody’s really looking forward to getting back, trying to keep some of that momentum we’ve created the last couple of games,” said defenceman Robyn Regehr after Thursday’s practice.

Those last couple of games feel like a lifetime ago and not just because Sutter was asked to step down after eight years with the organization.

After beating Dallas two sleeps before Christmas, the Flames played just one game in seven days, a 5-2 whipping of the Buffalo Sabres to start this week.

Momentum may be hard to continue with that much time off.

“I’m not going to complain about having a break,” Regehr said.

“Even though we had a couple of days at Christmastime, before that, I think we played pretty much every day through all of December. That’s what it felt like.

“It is nice to get a few days to practise. We were able to work on our powerplay and penalty kill a bit, and those are two areas we really need to continue to improve upon.”

Yes, it’s a broken record, but the clash with the Avs is yet another monumental game for the Flames, who sit 14th in the Western Conference with their 16-18-3 record and are eight points back of the eighth and final playoff spot.

After facing the Avalanche, Calgary has clashes with Edmonton, the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks to round out the first half of the 82-game season.

Three of those are the proverbial four-point divisional games, but that tag doesn’t even matter these days.

“They’re all important to us,” Regehr said. “We’re chasing down 13 teams ahead of us. For me, personally, it really doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We need the same result and need to play the same way.”

The next few weeks will dictate the next step for the Flames.

Should they go on a winning streak, jump into the mix and even take hold of a playoff spot before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, the likelihood of a mid-season rebuild will decrease.

However, should they continue to remain well outside the playoff picture, you can bet Feaster will receive the OK to start pulling the trigger on what deals he can make to start a new chapter.

The stress level hasn’t changed, but there has been a noticeable difference in the atmosphere around the Saddledome in recent times.

“It’s simple — it comes down to winning,” forward Brendan Morrison said.

“When you win games, you’re looser, and you feel more comfortable joking around and having fun. Whereas when you’re not winning games, people see you laughing and being a jokester, they can think you don’t care. That is the furthest from the truth, but that’s how it is.

“As players — actually, in anything you do — if you’re tight at your job every day, you’re not going to have the same results as when you’re enjoying it. I believe if you’re having fun, you tend to work harder and things happen to go your way more often than not.

“I’ve seen a change the last few weeks, for sure. In November, it was pretty tense, but I think the coaches have done a better job of implementing a better atmosphere that way.”


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