Flames Cleaning Up Some Bad Habits

The issue of complacency has been on the mind of Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters for a while now. After all, when things are going well, it is easy to want to relax, ease up on the gas pedal and just “enjoy the ride.” Even the best of teams are vulnerable to succumbing to this allure of resting on one’s laurels. Calgary is no exception. As of late, the Flames’ accomplishments have been piling up, with much temptation to simply sit back and enjoy the spoils.

At this moment, Calgary leads both the Pacific Division and Western Conference. With their conference rivals all suffering crucial losses recently, the Flames’ string of wins have allowed them to pull away and solidify their position as best in the west. Across the National Hockey League, the Flames rank second overall, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning in contention for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund
Calgary Flames’ Mikael Backlund celebrates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Needless to say, the Flames have much to be proud of at this point in the season. To put things more cautiously, however, they have much laurels to rest upon, and thus, more enticements for complacency.

Luckily for the Flames, Peters has been proactive in anticipating and confronting complacency. Though it came with some expected difficulties, his efforts have largely been fruitful. In the face of mounting warning signs, the Flames, through their recent post-Christmas performance, are demonstrating that slowly but steadily their bad habits are being cleaned up.

Flames Head Coach Eyeing Bad Habits Early

It was even before the holiday break, amid Calgary’s unprecedented surge to elite status, that Peters began warning his club against easing up too soon. “Some teams are going to check-out, right?” Peters said as Christmas break was approaching, “…Some guys are going to check out around the league…Don’t be one of them.”

Despite the coach’s admonishment, the Flames did check out somewhat, dropping their final three games to mostly non-contender opponents before heading into Christmas break. Upon their return, the Flames roared back to utterly devour their competition to capture top spot in the west, remaining there to this moment. However, even with their success, the bad habits still abounded.

Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters
Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

For their gritty come-from-behind style of play this season, the Flames have established a reputation around the NHL as the “Comeback Kids.” This is due to the fact that while the majority of Calgary’s efforts do wind up in the win column, they often trail for most of the game before pulling off miraculous scoring explosions in the third period to steal the victory from their opponents.

While this style of play makes for some entertaining hockey and gives the Flames notoriety as the most dangerous third-period team in the NHL, it also demonstrates their bad habit of not starting on time. From their prolonged struggle to secure early leads, the Flames have shown a tendency to rely too much on their third-period acumen, drawing some criticism from observers. This attitude riddled the Flames even after the holidays, continuing well into recent victories.

The final straw for Peters arguably occurred on Jan. 11 after the Flames achieved yet another come-from-behind win against the Florida Panthers. In the post-game interview, the head coach sounded off on his team’s continued over-reliance on third-period rallies.

While commending his squad’s overall performance, Peters bluntly and respectfully expressed that, “we haven’t played well here for a while and it’s been masked by the fact that we’ve got wins…we haven’t played well…Because we continue to win, so then we go ‘well, we’re obviously playing well and that’s good enough and the effort’s good enough and execution’s good enough.’ Where, in reality, it’s not at the level we could – should be at and can be at.”

Peters’ Flames Finally Wake Up

That may have been the turning point for the Flames. Only two nights following Peters’ remarks, the Flames faced off against the Arizona Coyotes and seized the initiative in the first period with a 2-0 lead. Throughout the game, the Flames maintained that lead, eventually cruising to a 7-1 victory over the battered Coyotes. Notwithstanding Arizona’s season-long struggles, the Flames had successfully started on time and held that consistency the entire evening.

Against Arizona, the Flames took the opportunity to ease into their improved and more disciplined style of play. The momentum carried into subsequent games as well, as evident against the Buffalo Sabres (Jan. 16), Detroit Red Wings (Jan. 18), Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 19) and Carolina Hurricanes (Jan. 22). In all of these contests, the Flames either captured the lead early, or kept things close before running away with the victory. Their single overtime loss to the Sabres still saw a more consistent and early-starting Flames team that maintained their lead for much of the game.

In the latest contest versus the Hurricanes, the Flames continued to keep their bad habits in-check. Though there was no third-period surge, Calgary took control of the game early and maintained that lead to the final minutes. While much of the credit goes to the stellar performance of Flames goaltender David Rittich, the victory over Carolina is the latest example in a series of games in which Calgary has improved substantially in terms of consistency. This is evident in the latest remarks by the head coach, who always gives credit where credit is due.

Going into the All-Star break, the Flames can finally rest easy, if only for a short time. Not only are they the top team in the Western Conference, but they also have a handy lead over the rest of their conference rivals. So far, the Flames have only lost one game in regulation in 2019, and are now only five points behind Tampa Bay for tops in the league.

Underlying all of this success is the fact that the Flames have cleaned up their bad habits. Assuming the pattern continues, this Calgary squad is primed to finish their regular season in style, and slated for a deep and impactful postseason run.