Darryl Sutter has been saying it since Day 1 of training camp: The Vancouver Canucks are the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Calgary Flames assistant Jim Playfair agrees.
"He's right," said Playfair a day before the Flames kick off a two-game home series against the Canucks at the 'Dome. "I think that is a huge test for us."
For the Flames to compete against the current division leader, they will have to play better than they did in a 2-1 comeback win over the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. It will take a hearty effort for at least 60 minutes.
"We let off the gas (Thursday night) as far as I think our mental preparation, our intensity and our focus," said Playfair.
"We had to battle through our own mental game to get the two points. We're not going to get that chance against Vancouver. We've got to be 100 percent, to a man, ready to go preparation wise, intensity wise."
Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener said his team needs to make a statement with strong performances tonight and Monday.
"It's a huge series for us," said Warrener. "We're at home, we haven't played as well as we need to. If we can put together some good games, it's going to be against a tough team. It's going to be a big, big test for us."
Because of the new NHL scheduling intended to develop more division rivalries and the Olympic break in February, the Flames play the Canucks twice in three nights in the friendly confines of the Saddledome with a chance to jump above .500 for the first time since their second game of the season.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla says improving their record is as important for the team's confidence as the points are in the early-season standings.
"The position we're in, it's a very big test for us," said Iginla. "Right now, we've got to get back to .500. That's our opportunity. It's our first opportunity to win three games in a row this year."
While the Flames have often struggled to keep their intensity level cranked up through an entire game against less talented opponents, the Canucks should provide ample motivation. Pre-season games between the two clubs seemed to be even more hostile than those between Calgary and Edmonton.
"It's going to be a fun two games. Every time we play them, they're physical, they're emotional games," said Iginla. "Even our pre-season -- more so than our Edmonton games -- (there were) more hits and more stuff going on. I would imagine that will be the case again."