In this day-and-age of six- and seven-figure salaries, chartered flights, five-star hotels and more free perks than you can shake a composite stick at, it really is amazing how a good bag skate and the fear of a coach’s wrath can affect a team.
That’s what’s happened with the Flames the past two weeks.
After a middling 7-4-1 start, including two particularly poor showings that turned into losses to end October, coach Brent Sutter left the pucks in the bag for much of the first Monday of November. Treating his players to a good old-fashioned dressing-down and some minor hockey-like skating “drills.”
And it worked.
Headed into yesterday’s action, Calgary had gone 5-0-1 since that Monday practice, including four wins and a shootout loss on the road. Captain Jarome Iginla had seven goals and eight points during the streak; goalie Miikka Kiprusoff had lowered his goals-against average from 3.00 to 2.35 and raised his save percentage from .901 to .923; lesser-lights — if no less important to the team’s fortunes — Daymond Lankow, Nigel Dawes and Olli Jokinen were scoring; and the surprising Rene Bourque continued to show he is one of the league’s burgeoning stars.
Most encouraging, Calgary’s team-defence looked to be coming around. After allowing 3.25 goals-per-game to begin the year, the Flames had given up just 1.20 since Sutter’s less-than-subtle on-ice message at the beginning of the month.
A particularly telling game came this past Saturday in Toronto. After scoring a few easy ones less than 10 minutes into the game to earn a 3-1 lead, the Maple Leafs came roaring back in the second period, carrying the play and out-shooting the Flames 20-4.
But Calgary weathered the storm. Toronto scored just a single goal thanks to Kiprusoff and Iginla essentially put the game away two-and-a-half minutes into the third when he restored Calgary’s two-goal lead.
Now, the Leafs are no juggernaut and have few players with much scoring skill, but the fact the Flames didn’t wilt and then came out hopping to begin the third is encouraging for Red Milers. With a stretch that began last night against Colorado of 22-straight games versus Western Conference opponents, Calgary couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot.