Resilient. Unphased. Confident. Three words you would not have used to describe last year’s version of the Calgary Flames.
This year, however, they’re all pretty accurate adjectives for this team.
And the funny thing is it’s pretty much the same team – minus the one player you might have argued was the epitome of all those things and the heart of the team itself.
Despite losing captain Mark Giordano to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, the Calgary Flames have somehow collectively become the embodiment of their former pulse.
Maybe it helps that some of the pieces they have added have championship pedigree. Blake Coleman is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brad Richardson has a ring of his own with the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. But last year, fragile was used more often than fierce when it came to the Calgary Flames.
Down a goal in the third period in both of their games this week, the Flames never seemed to panic. They forced overtime in both to salvage a point and extend their streak to nine games with at least a point.
“We just keep pushing each other. Everyone wants to be a difference-maker. It’s been a lot of different guys who have stepped up at different times,” said Mikael Backlund, the longest-serving member of the Calgary Flames.
Hot start builds confidence needed to change outcomes
By his own recollection, Backlund says they came back to tie or win only one or two games last year and felt like they were chasing teams all year long.
“Once you start losing and chase teams in the standings, it’s a lot harder to come back in games. Just mentally, a lot harder to find that extra point and get that extra goal,” he said. “When you’re winning, it’s just a lot easier. You have more confidence.”
The general sense of calm is apparent on the ice and off. Perhaps it’s another manifestation of the strong start in the standings but there’s a certain unflappability that comes across even in the players’ interviews this season.
Matthew Tkachuk, for example, calmly pushed through the questions the morning after reports that his name surfaced as part of the NHL trade talks with the Buffalo Sabres while the Flames pushed to land Jack Eichel.
It’s no surprise they continue to wait to name a captain – so many of them could easily be wearing a letter right now.
Maybe the loss of Giordano forced added responsibility on every one of them, just as the loss of his minutes on the ice are being covered by committee.
Maybe it’s the Darryl Sutter effect after the head coach planted during his partial season with the Flames last year and a full training camp with the group.
Whatever the catalyst, it’s a good look for the competitive Calgary Flames.
“We’re competing until the end of the shift, end of the period, and clearly until the end of the game,” said Milan Lucic, another player not wearing a letter who is clearly part of the leadership group taking ownership of the locker-room. “We’re a group that has a lot of pride.”