Flames Today: 31.01.14
With two assists to help the Calgary Flames defeat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Thursday, Mikael Backlund matched a milestone.
Through 53 games this season, the 24-year-old equalled his career-high of 25 points, established during the 2010-11 season. But it isn’t necessarily the points that Backlund, Calgary’s most consistent forward over the past two months, is concerned about.
“I don’t really think too much about points to be honest,” he said. “Obviously it’s nice to get them but I don’t get frustrated over it or too excited over it. I just try to make the small things happen and be a responsible player out there and make things happen. When you do that and don’t focus on it, usually they come.”
Backlund quickly turned a trying season into both his most productive and most effective at both ends of the ice. His 25 points currently have him third on the Flames in scoring, but its his two-way game that has made Backlund’s progression impressive, according to coach Bob Hartley.
“Offensively, it seemed like the net was getting smaller by the second and defensively, that was not what we got from him at the end of last year and suddenly he got back on track and now, it seems like he’s unstoppable in the three zones,” he said. “Offensively, he’s generating a lot. He’s skating. That’s the best I’ve seen Backs skate right now.
Hartley isn’t the only one who sees it that way. Backlund too admitted it’s the best he’s played through his NHL career, spanning parts of five seasons.
“I feel good about myself,” the 6-foot, 198-pound pivot said. “Obviously it’s the best I’ve played in this league so far in my career. I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.”
The next challenge for Backlund lies in leadership.
“That’s the next step,” Hartley said. “That’s why we put the ‘A’ on his jersey. It’s kind of a reward but at the same time, it’s a challenge. I want him to grow in this organization. He’s a first round pick. He’s doing awfully well with us. Now, what is the next step? My job is to keep supporting him but also to keep pushing him.”
GIORDANO HEATING UP
Backlund isn’t the only setting marks on the Flames.
With his second period goal -- his ninth of the season -- captain Mark Giordano extended his career-high point-scoring streak to eight games. That matches Duncan Keith and Kevin Shattenkirk for the longest by a defenceman this season.
“I wouldn't have believed it (was possible),” Giordano said following the game. “It just seems like I'm getting a couple of bounces. I'm trying to be aggressive and it seems the puck's coming to me at the right spot.”
As much as the production has meant to Giordano, it’s been more important to the Flames, Hartley said.
“It means a lot to him but it means even more to us,” Hartley said. “It’s a little bit like Backlund. It’s all about commitment. We got a 3-on-2 yesterday, I showed the boys on the video this morning, he’s the last guy in the corner in the battle and suddenly we get a 3-on-2 and who’s the third man on that 3-on-2? It’s Gio. He’s an unbelievable worker. I have lots of time for this guy because he is the most simple definition of a professional. He does everything by the book without saying a word.”
The Flames hope they can keep another streak alive.
Calgary has won four straight at home and have the opportunity to sweep their five-game homestand on Saturday when they hose the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“Just keep winning, just keep winning,” Hartley said. “It’s part of our culture. Right now, we’re demanding. We’re setting tight expectations. Even though we’re winning right now, you saw practice. We’re not going to put up with complacency or anything. We want to win the game just because that’s the game. We play to score goals and we play to win. That’s part of our job.”
“I think that Backs definitely started his ascension, if I may use that term, towards the end of last year. He got injured a few times but kept battling. We saw a commitment in him that he wanted to get his game better. [He] came in camp No. 1 in fitness, fittest guy in camp. Right there, you can’t get closer to commitment than this. He just took off.”
-Hartley on Backlund
The Flames host Minnesota Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada (8 p.m. MST, CBC, Sportsnet 960 The Fan).