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Critical stretch begins with win

Flames begin final drive to Olympic break and trade deadline

Wednesday, 03.02.2010 / 7:26 PM / News
By Mike Board  - CF.com Digital Content Director
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Critical stretch begins with win

Darryl Sutter didn't like the way his team looked. So, in the span of about 48 hours, he re-built a third of it through two trades.

WHAT  THE NEW FLAMES DID VS CAROLINA
Stajan

MATT STAJAN

CENTRE - CGY

GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 2 | +/-: 1 | TOI: 14:11
Bottom Line:
Went to the net, scores and, like Hagman, seemed to develop a little chemistry with Iginla
Jamal Mayers

JAMAL MAYERS

RIGHT WING - CGY

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS:1
SOG: 3 | +/-: 1 |TOI: 6:52
Bottom Line:
Played hard, came to the aid of Bourque and stepped in to fight Kostopoulos. Won the fight early
Niklas Hagman

NIKLAS HAGMAN

LEFT WING - CGY

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 0 | +/-: E | TOI: 16:29
Bottom Line:
Had some chemistry with Iginla and Stajan five-on-five and on power play, showed some nice hands, too
Ian White

IAN WHITE

DEFENCE - CGY

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 0 | +/-: 1 | TOI: 16:39
Bottom Line:
Handled the puck well, blocked some shots and had a steady outing on the blueline
Christopher Higgins

CHRISTOPHER HIGGINS

LEFT WING - CGY

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0| PTS: 0
SOG: 2 | +/-: 1 | TOI: 16:23
Bottom Line:
Saw second line duty, some power play work, threw his body around
Ales Kotalik

ALES KOTALIK

RIGHT WING - CGY

GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 5 | +/-: E | TOI: 13:36
Bottom Line:
Delivers two bigs hits in first period, plays point on power play, blocked a shot.
If you count rookie Mikael Backlund in the mix -- because it looks as though he is staying on with the big club -- it's a new group of seven.

On Wednesday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome, a place that is becoming increasingly restless, the Calgary Flames began a critical six-game stretch that leads into the Olympics, a trade freeze and then the trade deadline on March 3 with a 4-1 win over Carolina.

Alex Kotalik, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Niklas Hagman and Chris Higgins, the six players acquired through trades, were all on the ice on Wednesday against the visiting Hurricanes.

"I haven't been very happy with our season. That's why we are doing it (making moves) now," said the general manager.

That and the fact that, following the Olympic break, there are only a few days left to wheel and deal, should Sutter decide to do more tinkering. Certainly, that is not something he has ruled out.

"I think what we did...gives us some flexibility on our payroll now and moving forward," said Sutter.

"I think we have to see how it plays out. When you do it on paper, it is a pretty good mix. Now, really, the responsibility becomes that of the player himself. Time isn't necessarily on our side."

Winning is what the NHL is about and the Flames need to get that winning feeling back to truly distinguish themselves in a tight Western Conference playoff race.

Sutter believes the changes made this week will help spur the dressing room toward the potential he sees in the team.

"Our team is capable of more. Other than (goalie Miikka) Kiprusoff our team has probably not played up to standards. I expect a lot. I expect our team to be a hard-working team. I think there are times when that hasn't happened."

Sutter noted that the veterans who remain after this week's trades need to provide direction and lead the way.

Head coach Brent Sutter couldn't agree more. "It's got to start at the top and work itself down, right through the whole club," said the coach.

The other request from the coach was to play with intensity and emotion and a strong work ethic. And, for the most part, that's what he got from his charges Wednesday. At several junctures in the game the Flames put back-to-back shifts of pressure on Carolina, working the forecheck hard and getting chances of the cycle down low.

There was some fire through the line-up, some aggression. Some emotion. Some urgency. A giant hit from Mark Giordano that sent Joni Pitkanen sailing into the Hurricanes bench. And, of, course, goals. Four of them.

Hey, we get that this was Carolina not a top dog like Chicago, Washington or San Jose. And this was far from perfection -- too many penalties kept the visitors interested and close. But strides are strides and sometimes it takes baby steps.

"Maybe we needed a little shake-up to jolt the chemistry of the team," said forward Eric Nystrom. "Management thinks this is for the best. We've just got to play. That's what it comes down to. We've got to win now and that's what we are going to do."

That started Wednesday. It is one in a row.

There are five games left in the stretch before the Olympic break. Five games left in a critical stretch.