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Sutter returns to L.A. with Flames playing like kings

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The Calgary Flames have become one of the league’s most feared opponents this season. The Eastern Conference has taken notice thanks to two tours through their ranks, with the Flames kicking ass along the way.

Now they set to unleash their tight checking brand of possession hockey on their own Pacific Division, starting with the Los Angeles Kings tonight.

It happens to be head coach Darryl Sutter’s most successful stomping grounds.

“Darryl’s fingerprints are all over that team,” Kings head coach Todd McLellan told the Los Angeles Daily News. “They check really hard. Their goaltending has been outstanding, I think they’ve got six or seven shutouts. From a statistical standpoint, they’re a good defensive hockey club.”

McLellan needs to get current, as Sutter says, although his hostility. The Calgary Flames focus is on checking, not defence. The latter just comes naturally when the other team has the puck more, and aggressively pursues it when it doesn’t have possession.

But McLellan is right about one thing, Sutter’s DNA is all over the Calgary Flames currently. The players have all bought in to the system and the style and are as prepared a bunch as we’ve seen in Calgary since … well, maybe since Sutter left the bench to become GM of the Flames in 2006.

All the players need to do is look to the rafters in Los Angeles to see what can happen when they commit to that system. The 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup banners will be dangling overhead. For Sutter, Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson, a peek skyward might be in order.

But Sutter doesn’t do fanfare and reminiscing very often, at least not in public. The 63-year-old’s six seasons in Los Angeles will surely be acknowledged by the Kings in some fashion. Just don’t expect him to get misty over it.

“I’m pretty much a middle-of-the-road, neutral guy. Don’t get too high, too low,” he said. Side note, his players sound very similar these days. “But that’s still the best part about being in the National Hockey League is going to these places and seeing a lot of people, including the fans.”

More than anything, what Sutter wants the most out of his trip to Los Angeles is the two points.

“Knowing him, it’s probably getting the win,” Lewis said this week.

The Sutter effect is what has been giving the Flames so many opportunities to walk out of a visiting barn with wins this season.

“You have to have an identity. It’s really simple. We’re trying to get the respect back in the league and an identity back. I’d watched this team. I watched this team on TV enough, and they had to change the way they played,” Sutter said on Wednesday. “When I came here, it’s true, they were too slow of a team. The way the league had changed, they played too slow. It wasn’t how fast the players skated, it was just they didn’t play at the pace that is necessary the way the league is, especially (in the Pacific Division). I mean, the best teams are still Edmonton and Las Vegas, and there’s good reason. They’re big, fast teams.

“It’s not based on one player. It’s based on how your team has to play. And we’re still working with that. I can live with mistakes and everything, but you have to play a certain way to be successful in this league. And it bears fruit all the time.”

Calgary Flames associate coach Kirk Muller called Sutter a “cagey veteran” this week when he was asked about the return to Los Angeles behind an opponent’s bench for the first time since 2017.

“We all know he loves to win and he’s competitive, so he’s probably not going to mention anything. It’s going to be just like another game. But let’s be honest, deep down, it’s always nice to go back and try to win a game like that,” said Muller. “I’m sure the boys will be ready to play hard for him.”

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