The Calgary Flames are among the best teams in the National Hockey League to start the season after winning five of their six games.
They beat defending Stanley Cup champions Colorado Avalanche at their Oct. 13 home game and then defeated some serious 2022-23 contenders — the Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins — with their only loss to the Upstart Buffalo Sabers last Thursday.
However, the Flames’ public comments paint a picture of a group that has done the opposite.
After their best six-game start in franchise history, the Flames have a strong feeling that their game is far from rounded and that there is another level to reach. Several players have pointed out their play with equal strength. One of the few stats Calgary has underperformed for this season is five-for-five goals, where they rank 18th.
“We have a lot to do,” said head coach Darryl Sutter after Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Penguins. “We fired shots in the second period (21). Do you think that’s almost 60 minutes?”
Nazem Kadri, who scored two goals on Tuesday and leads the team with nine points from six games, joined his coach.
“We didn’t really put together a full, full 60 [minute effort] yet,” he said.
“There were fifties and so on but there are still some flaws and that’s what we’re trying to correct…we hold ourselves to a high standard here. We understand it’s a rollercoaster ride as the season progresses, but it’s definitely more fun to get wins.”
While Jonathan Huberdeau (who scored his first goal as a Flame on Tuesday), Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli find chemistry together, Kadri’s trio of Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane has become the team’s top line.
They’re constantly pushing other teams into their defensive zone, dragging across the boards and finding themselves in open space. Together they have scored seven goals and 17 points. Five-a-side, Mangiapane, Dube and Kadri are among the team’s top five when it comes to creating dangerous chances (Toffoli and Mikael Backlund are the others).
“He’s smart and always knows where to be on the ice,” Mangiapane said of Kadri.
“As a line there’s still some room to grow and that’s just playing and knowing where the other is on the ice. He’s a smart player. Dubes and I just want to work hard, do our best and help the team win, and that’s why we’re successful…then we’re best when we work together, play together, play fast and hard – work, work tenaciously on the puck, teams to cause turnovers and I think we can capitalize on their mistakes. It all happens with a work ethic.”
Rasmus Andersson woke up on Wednesday to find himself among the league leaders with seven points from six games. He’s not entirely satisfied either.
“It’s kind of funny because I’m not particularly happy with my five-a-side game so far,” he said.
“It feels like I’m spending too much time in the [defensive] Zone. It’s one of those things to just finish the game a little bit faster and put it in the forwards and then play in the middle [offensive] Zone. But it feels like we’re in the D-Zone for X seconds and we need to change clothes, so just play a little more aggressively downstairs and then join the onslaught.
Andersson, 25, has been doing more cardio this summer and is now playing more than ever. His ice time is up over a minute from last season and he’s playing more than three minutes a night in one of the better penalty sessions in the league (10th overall, coming into action on Wednesday night).
“I feel like I got my job done this summer,” he said. “My body feels good. I was ready to play bigger minutes this year.”
Andersson is the quarterback for the Flames’ top powerplay unit, a role he took on last season and has continued to grow into. Like Huberdeau, Andersson has tried to suppress his pass-first instinct and shot more instead. He’s been averaging two shots per game so far – up slightly from 2021-22.
“I feel like I’m touching the puck more this year than last year on the power play,” he said.
“Johnny, Naz, Lindy and Toff push me to do more as well, so of course that makes it easier.”
Kadri acknowledged the team’s hot start, adding that there could still be some bumps along the way as the team strives for the next level they’re constantly trying to reach under Sutter.
“It won’t all be pretty,” Kadri said, “but at the end of the day, we grind and get the job done.”
The Flames, who are playing nine of their first ten games in the Saddledome, host the Oilers next on Saturday night.
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