Every time Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter puts certain veterans into the lineup over younger, more tantalizing talents, a number of fans feel part of their soul die.
But the move worked well on Saturday night, as veterans Brad Richardson and Brett Ritchie formed an effective trio with Trevor Lewis. They didn’t get onto the scoresheet, but every shift in the early going seemed to give the team a boost during the 7-3 Calgary Flames win over the Minnesota Wild.
It didn’t go unnoticed by the coach.
“I think they gave us momentum every shift in the first period. They were difference-makers,” Sutter said on Monday. “They started a lot of possession, started a lot of faceoffs for sure.”
Meanwhile, 20-somethings Dillon Dube and Adam Ruzicka watched in street clothes. With one loss in their last 11 games, the team was coming away with points while they were in the lineup, too. But their details were slipping, and a 7-1 loss in Vancouver meant change was coming.
Internal competition is an important element of Sutter’s best laid plans.
“It’s very important. You’re a team that’s trying to create an identity or a different way of playing. It’s not just new players coming in from the outside, it’s players in the organization,” Sutter explained. “That was the big thing this summer, was how the team had to make all these player changes. But maybe it was more about players changing.”
Changing. Evolving. Whatever you want to call it, many of the same Calgary Flames faces that have been criticized for their two-way and/or postseason play are now being praised for their commitment to the type of hockey designed for the playoffs. The type of hockey that builds an identity.
That identity is being noticed by opponents.
Wild head coach captures Calgary Flames identity in comments
Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason addressed that on Monday. He was asked if the loss on Saturday at the Saddledome could be considered a learning experience.
“That’s the team that outgritted us, that’s the team that outhit us, that’s the team that outplayed us, that’s the team that embarrassed us,” Evason said of Tuesday’s rematch. “So there better be some learning experience.”
— Steve Macfarlane (@MacfarlaneHKY) March 1, 2022
Those words speak to the heart of the Calgary Flames identity. The next month should indicate whether or not this team is truly past the peaks and valleys of its former ways. The bounceback win against the Wild after their own 7-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks is a good sign.
But Sutter doesn’t buy into the idea that teams can peak at the right time for the playoffs.
“When you’re a team that’s had zero playoff success and coming off a year not making the playoffs, I think every day better be trying to be your best one,” Sutter said.
“Those peaks and valleys teams are the teams that don’t make it. You have to play above the line,” he said, drawing it out with his finger.
“Play above the line.”