It’s now or never for the current incarnation of the Calgary Flames.
You have to believe this team has a short window of opportunity to prove it can challenge for the playoffs before interim GM Jay Feaster is forced to focus on the future at the trade deadline.
Their modest four-game winning streak is a nice start, bringing them to within five points of the NHL Western Conference’s eighth seed as of Sunday morning.
But this holiday-season stretch has only secured them a .500 record, and their schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher.
Forget the fact Monday’s foe is among the league’s lowest ranked clubs right now, the New York Islanders have been on a nice run of their own over the last couple of weeks.
The Flames then hop over to Vancouver for a big game Wednesday against the division-rival Canucks, fly back for a date with the Detroit Red Wings at the Saddledome, before taking to the skies again for a four-game trek through the Eastern Conference.
Playing essentially every second evening from now until the Heritage Classic
Feb. 20, they face the arduous task of winning two out of every three contests to reach their goal of 90-plus points.
By the league’s dealing deadline Feb. 28, decisions will have to be made.
Feaster has said he would like to add picks for this spring’s draft.
For Flames who don’t have no-trade clauses or would rather not be asked to waive them, they’ve got about two months to prove they deserve to stick around not just because of their contracts but because of their play.
The past couple of weeks have been promising, but there’s absolutely zero room for setbacks.
“We feel like we’re climbing out of the hole we dug ourselves. We’re not there yet — there’s a lot of work to do — but it feels good,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, whose team was rewarded with a day off Sunday.
“Everybody is finding ways to go and contribute and have big nights on different days. That’s what winning teams do. It’s not any one special thing. It’s all different ways you win games, and we’re finding ways of doing that now.”
When they don’t win, they’ll need to keep up the belief they’ll be able to do it the next one.
Their confidence is high
at the moment.
“Winning helps. Whenever you can get points and win games, your confidence inside your room just naturally grows,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter, whose team hasn’t quit despite an awfully inconsistent first third of the season.
“But the guys stayed with it. We went through some tough times, and we just stayed together, shoulder to shoulder, and kept believing and kept a real positive attitude in the dressing room. Winning solves a lot of things. There’s nothing like winning.”
There’s no other solution if they’re going to salvage a season that’s seen the team win three or more consecutively just twice and asked a GM to resign his post.
“We’re gonna battle and play our hardest and compete and try to get back in this thing,” Sutter said. “We’re picking away at it. That’s the only choice we have, and that’s what we have to do.”
How much progress they make over the next 57 evenings could determine what logo each player pulls over their pads during the final
41 games of the NHL’s regular-season.