ASSESSING THE ROAD SWING
Eight days into their nine-day road swing, the Calgary Flames aren't pleased with the results of a few of their games thus far but are focusing on the positive aspects of their four outings as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon.
"We had some good parts and bad parts," head coach Bob Hartley noted. "I thought that we're playing hard. We're in every game. That's, for me, a positive because we're making some real good decisions out there."
Hartley has praised his charges for becoming more defensively sound over the last month and that area of the Flames game has been strong this trip. Blueliner Ladislav Smid, who joined the Flames in early November, has noticed a change since he was acquired by Calgary.
"I think it's fair to say that the last three, four weeks, we've been better than we were. I think we work better as a five-man unit out there and I think we've been talking a little bit more in our zone. That helps out sort things out.
"Also, a big thing is being physical. I think all the guys are being really physical when we have a chance to finish our checks and that's a big part of it."
Consistency has been an issue that has plagued the team for a good chunk of the season and while the squad has made great strides in this area, Lee Stempniak feels they still have some work do.
"It seems like we struggle to generate shots a lot," he noted. "In the second period against Detroit, I think we had three or four shots. For some reason, we go long stretches where we sort of play a bit more passive and don't generate offensive chances.
"For me, I'd like to see us be more aggressive. Shot the puck more. From there, I feel like things start to snowball. You're in the offensive zone, you're getting rebounds, you're crashing the net. All things that really build momentum and for some reason, we just seem hesitant to shoot the puck at times."
OPTIONAL SKATE IN STEEL CITY
The Flames had another late night, arriving in Pittsburgh in the early morning hours so the coaching staff opted to have an optional skate this afternoon.
"We told them that it's a long road trip that we've been in, a 1:00 PM ET game tomorrow," Hartley explained. "We had a few tough flights. Last night, we played some guys quite a bit so just to get a day to decide what you want to do ... guys were in gym, some guys skated. A little sweat and get ready for tomorrow."
This trip has been tough to schedule practice times in due to the flights and periods between games. In fact, the Flames have been limited to just one practice this week, on Wednesday in Detroit.
"That's part of the demanding NHL schedule, " Hartley said. "You're going to get some quality practice time during the season and you better invest in it because sometimes you're going two, three weeks without one good practice.
"Compliment to the guys ... usually, when you lack practice ... defensively that you kind of lose your tracking, you lose your good decisions, your good habits. But thanks to good focus from the boys, I thought that we were still very good."
LINEUP CHANGES UNCERTAIN
The Flames coaching staff has yet to decide if they are going to make any lineup changes tomorrow. On Thursday, Blair Jones, TJ Galiardi and Chris Breen sat as healthy scratches in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Karri Ramo will get the start in net.
WORKING WITH THE ROOKIE
Sean Monahan didn't see a lot of action in the third period in Detroit and after the game, Hartley noted it was performance-related, not a health issue. The forward is still wearing a walking boot so there was some speculation that he was still feeling pain from the hairline fracture he suffered earlier this year.
Hartley has addressed the possibility that the forward is still dealing with issues stemming from the injury and has been assured that Monahan is okay to play. He views this period of time as a great learning opportunity for the young centre.
"I sat with him and said, 'You have to tell me about your foot. I'm here to teach you. I'm here to raise you. I'm also here to protect you.'
"I told him, 'I hate to see you walk in that stupid boot.' ... Here's a young player who is learning to come back from an injury in the NHL while the pace of the league is picking up. We're approaching the half-way point of the season."
"If you're not ready to play Sidney Crosby, you might be in the wrong business." - Hartley on not needing to motivate his crew for tomorrow's game despite it being the last outing on a long trip.
Tomorrow's game versus the Penguins will be aired on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The FAN at 11:00 AM MST.
"We can finish on a good note here in Pittsburgh," Stempniak said of the match-up. "We're playing a really good team and if we can get a win here, it will really make it a pretty solid road trip for us and will good going into our last home game before Christmas."
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