More than three weeks into their season, the Calgary Flames surprisingly are in the NHL’s upper echelon, a far cry from last season’s non-playoff squad.
After suffering their lone regulation-time defeat in the season opener, the Flames have a 10-game point streak, during which they have seven wins.
Calgary will look to extend their point streak when they host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
Along with their winning ways, the Flames are among the league leaders in goals-for, goals-against and special-teams play. Moreover, they’re winning back a fan base that became disillusioned over the past few years because of maddeningly inconsistent play.
“I’ve said it all along, I said it in the summer, too: I know what the real fans want. They want hard work and honesty,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “When they have hard work and honesty, that resonates with them.”
The offensive touch shown by the Flames isn’t generally the calling card of Sutter squads, but the defensive play definitely falls under the expectations of a Sutter-coached squad. As a result, goaltender Jacob Markstrom already has a career-high four shutouts, the latest in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the New York Rangers.
“I think it says a lot more about the team and the way we’re playing really defensively sound,” Markstrom said.
“The biggest thing, when you talk about the shutouts, is cleaning up around the net,” Sutter added. “Rebound control and getting whistles, things like that, are just as important as the saves. That’s what it’s about, and that’s what he has gotten really good at.”
The Sharks arrive in Calgary struggling — a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils has them on a two-game skid — and shorthanded due to a COVID-19 outbreak that has more than a half-dozen players, plus coach Bob Boughner, out of action. Though it, the Sharks went 2-2-1 in a five-game homestand before embarking on a five-game trip.
“I thought we had a great homestand with all the guys out due to COVID,” said defenseman Mario Ferraro, who has four points in a three-game scoring streak. “I thought there were far more positives than negatives. We can’t let losses like this bring us down.”
When and who the Sharks will have back remains to be seen, but it’s not expected that any of them — Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Matt Nieto, Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — will return for this game. So hanging tough and keeping in the middle of the Pacific Division standings until they are back to a full complement is about the best they can hope for right now.
“It’s always disappointing to lose, but I’m quite happy with the effort and the commitment the guys showed,” Sharks assistant coach John MacLean said.
That said, it won’t be an easy trip for the Sharks. Four of the five teams they’ll face are well above .500 for the season, and the fifth is the Colorado Avalanche, who have struggled but are expected to be a top-tier team.
While Markstrom is likely to start for the Flames, the Sharks plan to give No. 2 goalie Adin Hill — who played minor and junior hockey in Calgary — the start on Tuesday.
–Field Level Media