“There’s a time where you’re not even sure you’re a part of the league, the way the schedule is.”
This pretty much sums up the situation. Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter did not mince words on Thursday, Jan. 20 when asked how the NHL’s wildly unbalanced schedule has affected his squad over the past month. While there have been many other teams that have had to deal with postponements, the Flames have been the most affected in the league. Sutter has plenty to say about this.
“At the end of it, the way the schedule’s been… It’s been really hard to get any continuity”, Sutter told reporters. “So, its been hard to get into any routine or rhythm. I know from being a player that you don’t like practicing four days in a row or you don’t like taking three days in a row off. It’s the worst thing for you as an athlete, and we’ve had to endure that how many times? And I know that’s how it’s affected them.”
Sutter Hopes Practicing “With Game Pace” Can Replicate Game Action
The team was released from COVID-19 protocols late December and had to endure a demanding schedule. They played five times in nine consecutive nights. There have been many postponements since then. Due to limitations in capacityThe Flames have been only two times in the past two weeks. Calgary has suffered a loss record because of the fact that the entire team was inundated with positive cases mid-December. It has been a challenge to get them back on track using mostly practices.
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“It’s important because we’re not playing enough games and you have to play at game pace”, Sutter said. “So the guys understand and they practice pace all the time, but the key with pace is the execution of it. Anyone can skate fast, but it takes skill to control the puck and execute the play. When our games dropped off, that’s when (our pace) dropped off. We’re not making the play to kill the play, we’re not making the play to make the next play. So, you have to be able to do it at game speed.”
After Saturday night’s tilt against the Oilers in Edmonton, the Flames are heading into another busy stretch, so Sutter knows keeping his squad up to speed with very little practice time will be crucial as the team enters the second half of the regular season after the upcoming All-Star break. Speaking of the second half, the NHL finally released Calgary’s revamped schedule and, not surprisingly, it’s very home-heavy for the next couple of months.
The Flames’ Playoff Hopes Will be Decided in February and March
The Flames experienced a heavy start to their 2021-22 calendar. If you add in the Omicron virus and postponements of arena capacity restriction postponements, Calgary played just 13 games at Scotiabank Saddledome. It’s been tough sledding for the boys in red to establish any kind of routine or rhythm on home ice this year, and their mediocre 5-4-4 record at the Dome certainly reflects that. Sutter knows that his team must take advantage of a friendlier schedule because no NHL team has more home wins.
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“We can say February, March look like good schedules because they are home-based schedules. You can say that for the first time this year,” the Flames head coach told reporters. “Then April is a hard schedule again because there are a lot of road games with travel… We want to play well going into the All-Star break because I think our season will probably be decided, then, in February and March.”
Talking about Saturday night’s game at Rogers Place, Sutter told the media that he’s not taking the Oilers are in decline lightly, as they’ve had a similar experience with an unpredictable schedule and a boatload of postponed games. He believes they are the top-two team of the Pacific Division, and that the rest of the division is battling for third.
“We’re all fighting for that third spot. You start screwing around with wildcards, then you’re fooling around with the Central Division. That’s not what you want to do because of disparity in games. You screw around with the wildcard, then either you’re in or you’re out,” Sutter said. “I can explain that to the team because I’ve been on the wrong side of that. I’ve been on teams 15 games over .500 and miss (the playoffs) by two points. You’re only guaranteed one, two, three. After that, you start flipping coins with that wildcard stuff.”
With all of the questions about the Flames’ revamped schedule finally answered, the team can now focus on improving their overall game and recapturing some of that early season momentum that saw them on top of the Western Conference. Having six or seven games at hand on their divisional rivals and a the comforts of “Dome Sweet Dome” for much of the next two months could go a long way to getting back in sync.
Greg Tysowski was a broadcast journalist before he decided to be a stay-at home dad. He did this for more than ten years. He’s now a Published author, Parenting bloggerAn aspiring sports writer who covers the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg contributes regularly to the weekly roundtable discussion. “Flames Faceoff”You can now stream the podcast on YouTube and other podcast platforms.