What a past ten days it has been for the Calgary Flames. General manager Brad Treliving shocked the hockey world on March 4 when he announced a coaching change shortly after a win versus the Ottawa Senators. The shock wasn’t so much the fact that Geoff Ward was being fired as it was that his replacement was Darryl Sutter. This obviously marked a huge culture change to the team and is already noticeable for both players and fans of this team.
While the Flames did lose both of their first two games after the coaching change, Sutter had not yet been behind the bench due to COVID quarantine protocols. He instead made his debut this past Thursday and picked up a win both then and Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. All of a sudden, they now sit just two points out of a playoff spot and have looked like a completely different team these past two games.
It is clear that despite being there a very short time, Sutter has had an effect on the Flames dressing room. This was especially evident in his two games behind the bench versus the Canadiens, where his team on both nights appeared to play at a very quick pace, something that had been missing in the past. It was also quite clear that he’s willing to use all four lines, giving his fourth line of Sam Bennett, Derek Ryan, and Josh Leivo many opportunities, something Ward was never keen on.
Savvy Veteran Coach
On top of the different strategies, Sutter’s veteran status was on display when speaking to the media Sunday when asked about Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid.
“Bottom line, he’s heads and shoulders the best player in the league,” Sutter said to NHL.com’s Tracey Myers. “I don’t think there’s one player who stops Connor McDavid. He’s a tough guy to stop. You just try to slow him down within the rules, limit his chances.”
The reason Sutter was asked about the Oilers captain is that the two teams play both Monday and Wednesday night in what is sure to be exciting games. While his comments may seem quite obvious, the 62-year-old has always been well calculated when it comes to speaking with the media, and these comments were no different.
Sutter likely does believe that McDavid is the game’s best player, as you’d struggle to find many who would argue that point. However, to say he is “heads and shoulders” the best player in the league seems to be a coach who wants to butter up the opposition and give them absolutely no bulletin board material, and for good reason. The 24-year-old has torched the Flames through four games this season with 10 points. He also leads the entire league with 52 points in just 30 games this season.
Those stats may make these two games against the Oilers seem nearly impossible, but that isn’t entirely the case. Through their four meetings this season, Edmonton has been victorious in three. However, the Flames were able to beat them by a score of 6-4 in their first matchup. McDavid was still able to register two points in that loss, but it didn’t matter, as his team’s defence was exposed.
Points for the Taking
If the Flames want to take one or even both of these two games against the Oilers, they will have to do that again. It is certainly a possible task, as despite Edmonton getting better on the back end, they still have some deficiencies which have popped up on multiple occasions this season. Currently, their 87 goals against is the 10th highest in the league, and they give up the eighth-most shots against per game at 31.3.
The one other area Edmonton has struggled in is their penalty kill, which is very interesting given that last season they had the second most successful penalty-killing unit in the entire NHL at 84.4 percent. For whatever reason, this season has been completely different, as they are tied for just 21st place, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, at 75.6 percent. While the Flames’ power play has been just average, for the most part, this season, this two-game set against the Oilers, who have struggled when down a man, could be just what they need to get their confidence up.
These two games are huge for the Flames, who currently trail the Oilers in the standings by seven points. They can close in on them in a big way if they are able to win both, and they also have two games in hand. However, if they were to lose both, they would put themselves even further into the hole they have dug themselves. Hopefully, this newly Sutter-led team, along with some of his clever gamesmanship, are able to turn things around starting Monday night.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.