CALGARY – In their quest to make amends for last year’s disappointing first-round playoff exit, the Calgary Flames face the perfect opening test.
The Flames look to avenge back-to-back losses to Vancouver to open last season as they host the Canucks in this year’s season opener Thursday night (CBC, 10 p.m. ET).
Calgary was drubbed 6-0 in Vancouver in the 2008-09 kickoff, then followed that up with a 5-4 overtime setback in Calgary. Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester wasn’t around for those games, but he said he’s still primed to help his new team avenge those losses.
“I think it’s a good way to start the year,” said Bouwmeester, who signed a US$33-million, five-year contract with the Flames before he came an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “You kind of see where you’re at and hopefully get off to a good start and keep things rolling. You know they’re going to be a good team and a team that you have to beat if you want to finish first.”
Veteran Flames forward Craig Conroy remembers last year’s opener vividly.
“They embarrassed us last year (in) the first game,” recalled Conroy, who played on a line with Curtis Glencross and Dustin Boyd at practice on Wednesday. “They got some good breaks too, but they worked hard to do what they had to do.”
Conroy said the Flames can use Thursday’s game against the Northwest Division-rival Canucks to build momentum for the remainder of the season – one in which Calgary is hoping to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“We’re going to be in a dogfight,” Conroy said. “They have a real good goalie. We’ve got to find a way to solve him early and get on their D and stay out of the penalty box. It’s a great opportunity to get off to a quick start and just keep going forward and hopefully never look back.”
New Calgary coach Brent Sutter isn’t dwelling on last year’s two-game sweep – or the rest of the disappointing season.
“Last year is last year,” Sutter said following practice. “This is a whole new fresh start.”
The players have bought in to Sutter’s defensive-minded approach and have done their best to learn his system heading into Thursday.
“There’s high expectations on everybody,” said Sutter.
If Wednesday’s practice is any indication, Calgary’s top line will feature Olli Jokinen at centre flanked on the wings by David Moss and captain Jarome Iginla.
“Every day we kind of feel a little more comfortable with each other and we’re looking forward to starting it up,” said Iginla. “Our team is still getting better.
“We have added some huge pieces. We’ve got good team speed. We have one the best goalies in the world, we have one of the top defensive corps in the world. That should be a huge strength of our team.”
Acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes at last season’s trade deadline, Jokinen was disappointed that the Flames lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s been a long summer,” Jokinen said. “That’s still in the back of our minds the way the season ended. It was an early exit for us.”
Jokinen hopes a strong start against Vancouver will help ease the frustration of last season.
“Usually after the first game, you can put the last season behind,” Jokinen said. “We feel good about ourselves and we believe we’re a top team in this league and we’ve been taking some huge strides ahead in this training camp and we’re going in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”