Regardless of the outcome of their battle against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, the Calgary Flames road trip can be considered a win.
With victories in Detroit, Washington, New York and New Jersey through the first four games – all in wildly different fashion – the Flames are enjoying their best start to a season in more than a decade.
But like veteran Milan Lucic said on Thursday morning, it’s all about how the road trip ends for him.
“You always leave with the last one being that taste in your mouth, right?” said Lucic via Zoom. “It can go from being a good road trip, which it has been, to a great road trip. We have that opportunity here tonight.
“We’ve had good starts in all four games so far, so we’re going to need that against a good, hungry Pittsburgh team.”
A Pittsburgh team without superstar Sidney Crosby. Not that it has slowed the Penguins (3-1-2) down much. They’ve played well as a group in spite of their star power on the sidelines (Jeff Carter and Kris Letang are currently in COVID protocol, too).
They’ve been just as reliant on minutes from their fourth line as the Flames – a team that has struck a nice balance throughout this road trip.
Flames winning different ways with balanced minutes
“We’ve had pretty good balance with the way we’ve used guys at even strength,” said Sutter on Thursday morning. “It’s being able to sustain that energy level tonight.
“I think we’ve won in different ways. You always want to have a good start, that’s why they count backwards with the clock, but you’ve got to win in different ways. Powerplay’s been pretty good for us on this trip. For sure it was the difference in the last game.”
Former Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Erik Gudbranson knows his Calgary Flames can’t take this game lightly just because it’s missing some of its top players.
“They’re a very well-coached team,” said Gudbranson, who stopped long enough for coffee between trades in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“They have got deep-rooted fundamentals that they rely on, and that shows whether Sid (Crosby), Geno (Evgeni Malkin), Tanger (Kris Letang), or any of those big guys are in or out of the lineup. The fundamentals don’t change and the demand on them doesn’t change. They’ve played really well with those guys out of the lineup and have put themselves in a good spot.
“We have to be prepared for a battle.”