Even though his team has been officially eliminated from playoff contention, don’t tell Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter his team has nothing to play for over their final four games.
As the Flames (23-26-3, 49 points) head into Thursday’s home clash with the Vancouver Canucks (21-27-3, 45 points), Sutter makes no bones about his expectations.
“You’re down to the short strokes in terms of the evaluation of some of these players. It’s where they fit in,” Sutter said. “Are they defenseman that can play in your top-six or top-four? Are they a forward who can play in your top-nine? That’s basically what you’re looking at. That’s from an individual standpoint.
“Also, you’re looking at it from a team standpoint. The team had to make a huge adjustment in terms of how the game is played in the league today and they’re continuing to do that,” Sutter continued. “That’s how I want the team to play the last four games, to continue to make the adjustment to play at a pace and play at the execution level that you have to sustain.”
The Flames will face the Canucks in all four or their remaining games. Vancouver has five games remaining, with a single game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday breaking up the series.
Both clubs were ousted on Monday when the Montreal Canadiens pushed the Oilers to overtime in their penultimate game.
“We just never got a run, never got a streak going,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “The last 20, 25 games, we started playing the right way, started playing faster, started playing with more detail in our game. Unfortunately, because of where we were at in the standings, we couldn’t afford a stretch like where we had, where we won — I think — one or two games out of 10.”
The Flames will be without top-line center Sean Monahan for the final four games, as he’ll have hip surgery.
The Canucks have just two wins in their last 10 outings, the latest defeat coming Tuesday, a disappointing 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. Vancouver looked exactly like a team that just wanted the season to be over.
“Unacceptable,” forward Tanner Pearson said of his team’s performance. “We just can’t stop playing hockey for no reason or else we’re going to hang out our goalies to dry, which we did … pretty much.”
The Canucks were in the playoff fight until late March, but a COVID-19 outbreak that affected nearly all of the players and coaches was a big factor in quashing their hopes, along with a wave of injuries. They won three of their first four games after a three-week break, but have struggled mightily since.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said captain Bo Horvat. “It’s been a tough couple of years, and I can’t say a new captain has gone through the kind of stuff I’ve been through and everybody else on the team. It’s been challenging for all of us to play as many games as we are now in midst of a pandemic.
“It’s going to make all of us and me a stronger person and player, and I’ll definitely learn from this experience,” Horvat said.
If missing the playoffs isn’t enough, the Canucks also are a curious case with coach Travis Green and all of his assistants without contracts once the season concludes.
“I’m not going to comment on my contract situation,” said Green, who will complete his fourth season as bench boss. “From the first day I got here, I wanted to coach this team through the rebuild and get to a spot where I thought we were getting some good young pieces and had a bright future. And I still have the same feeling. (General manager) Jim (Benning) said he wants me to coach the team, and we’ll see where it goes.”
–Field Level Media