Mikael Backlund is back.
And he’s playing.
That means six members of a struggling mid-section of the Calgary Flames forward ranks are candidates to sit out.
And looking at the numbers the third and fourth lines have produced over the last while — something a four-game winning streak masked well — more than one of them deserves to be benched.
Brendan Morrison has gone four games without a point and has one assist in his last eight.
Rene Bourque is scoreless in four straight and has a one goal and three points in his last dozen games.
Matt Stajan’s point drought has reached seven games, and he has just a goal and an assist in the past 12.
Niklas Hagman has no points in eight and four points in his last 14 contests.
Ales Kotalik has scored once in 13 games so far this season.
Curtis Glencross has goose-eggs in 10 straight games and just a lone helper in 16 outings.
“If they didn’t think it was serious before, it’s serious now,” Flames head coach Brent Sutter said of sitting at least one of them out Wednesday night in Vancouver in favour of Backlund, who was recalled Tuesday after a brief stint with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat and joined the team in Vancouver.
Serious describes both the situation the team is in when it comes to an unlikely playoff push and the message Sutter is sending.
“We need to get more from them offensively,” said the coach. “I try to help them with it. If they’re having a tough time with it, you’ve got to continue to work with them. But you can’t sit around and keep thinking it’s gonna happen.”
He can’t put his finger on what the supporting scoring lines are missing — aside from the actual point production.
“It’s just that wanting to do it,” Sutter said, pointing to the recent play of the fourth line as an example of what he wants from secondary stars.
Get bodies and pucks to the net. Play with hunger and passion. Stop looking to make perfect plays. Battle.
“That’s what those guys need to do. I’ve talked to them about it,” Sutter said. “When your offence is struggling ... you need to go back to the simplicity of the game, the basics of the game … I’m a big believer of that.”
And when it’s not working, it’s time to sit someone out.
“They’re not sitting out because I hand-picked them or anything like that,” Sutter said. “It’s been thorough play.”
Stajan, Hagman, Bourque and Kotalik all make more than US$3 million a season. There hasn’t been much bang for the buck lately, and there’s no time for passengers on a 14th-place team. The lack of scoring is frustrating them all. Stajan says it’s the most gruelling slump of his career.
“No doubt. It’s been tough,” Stajan said. “But you can’t sit here and put your head down and feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to find a way out of it. It’s been lingering too long. It’s too long of a lull for anybody and for myself. Just gotta work hard and look forward. The only way is up.”
Or to the bench.