Flames facelift continues, sends message that team needs to improve – Metro US

Flames facelift continues, sends message that team needs to improve

CALGARY – Christopher Higgins arrived in Calgary on Tuesday, hoping to add some desperately needed scoring to the Flames’ lifeless offence.

Following what head coach Brent Sutter termed as an “embarrassing” 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, the Flames (27-21-8) made their second big trade in three days, sending forwards Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers for Higgins and fellow winger Ales Kotalik.

Higgins is looking forward to making his debut at home with the Flames on Wednesday night when he’ll likely play on a line with Kotalik and centre Daymond Langkow.

“Hopefully we’ll find some chemistry,” Higgins said. “We’ve got to find it quick. Right now it’s just about winning games to be honest. Whatever I can do to help the team win, hopefully it’s scoring a little bit.”

While Higgins made it to Calgary in time for Tuesday afternoon’s practice at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Kotalik got held up in New York and was scheduled to arrive later in the evening.

“His flight was cancelled this morning,” said Flames general manager Darryl Sutter, who has been a busy man lately having also shipped defenceman Dion Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defensive prospect Keith Aulie to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.

That trade was made in exchange for forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers along with blue-liner Ian White.

While the Flames were mired in a miserable nine-game winless streak from Jan. 11-28, Sutter was working on finding a way to improve his team through trades.

“To be quite honest, I haven’t been very happy with our season so that’s why we are doing it,” he said. “I think our team’s capable of a lot more. Other than Kipper (goalie Miikka Kiprusoff), our team has probably not played up to standards.”

The trading frenzy has sent a message to veterans like Robyn Regehr and captain Jarome Iginla that the Flames have to start improving.

“We all have to be better in here,” said Regehr, who practised on a defence pairing with White on Tuesday after the two played together on Monday as well.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy that plays three or four minutes or if you’re a guy that plays 25 minutes. I think there’s room for improvement with everyone.”

In order to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture, Iginla said the Flames have to play hard, skate hard and compete while having fun.

“We’ve been flat too many times this month,” Iginla said. “It’s unacceptable, but we’re going to get better. It’s definitely pretty challenging to have the turnover this quickly during a season. We’ll deal with it as a team. Guys are excited about what we have ahead of us and the guys that are joining us.”

Higgins and Kotalik were both off-season acquisitions by New York that didn’t fit in with the Rangers. Darryl Sutter is now hoping that a change of scenery will help provide a spark for both players.

“I think they’ve had tough years in New York to be quite honest,” said the Flames GM. “If you look at it, they’ve been very successful guys prior to that and that’s good enough.”

Although Higgins struggled last season with the Canadiens before notching just six goals and eight assists in 55 games with the Rangers, Sutter said he’s confident the 26-year-old left winger can regain the form that saw him top the 20-goal mark in each of his first three seasons in Montreal.

“He’s our type of player,” he said. “That’s all I need to know. I’ve watched him enough over the years to know he’ll be a good player for us.”

Forward Eric Nystrom has known Higgins since the pair played minor hockey together before going on to play at the college level at the University of Michigan and Yale University respectively.

“He fits the mould of the kind of player that we like around here,” Nystrom said. “We need some offence, so we’re going to obviously need that from him. A change of scenery will really help. I think he’s going to step in and really surprise a lot of people.”

The Hurricanes will also be looking to get back on track against the Flames following a 4-2 loss in Edmonton to the Oilers on Monday night that ended their four-game winning streak.

“They’ve got a lot of new faces, probably guys that aren’t totally comfortable in their system and the way that they play,” said Carolina captain Eric Staal, who has racked up eight goals and six assists in his past nine games.

“For us, we’ve got to use that to our advantage and make sure that we’re jumping on them and making it difficult and hopefully getting the right result in the end.”

Carolina coach Paul Maurice said he expects nothing but a tough test for his team against the new-look Flames.

“Whenever you bring new guys in they always want to make that impression,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a little while for everybody to get in synch but they’re going to come hard and they’ll have six guys that want to make an impression and that usually means you get a lot of energy.”