Flames hope home ice can help team get back on track

Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with fans during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Oct. 30, 2021. (CP/file)

Ownership might not be very happy the Calgary Flames are returning to the Saddledome on Thursday for the first time in over a month.

But the players sure are.

For a team that has played a league-low 11 home games, their first hosting gig in over a month since Dec. 11 comes Thursday, at a time when the club is looking to build momentum any way it can.

Their hope is a little Dome cooking (a bad pun given no food or drink will be served to a crowd capped at 50 per cent capacity) will add a sense of normalcy that this season is once again lacking.

“I was just talking with Lindy (Elis Lindholm) after practice — it feels like we haven’t played in a year,” said Blake Coleman, whose club hasn’t played in five days and will get another four off after Thursday’s visit from Ottawa.

“It feels like another edition of training camp.

“It will be nice to be at home. It’s easier on the body, it’s more sleep, there’s a lot of intangibles that go into the benefits of being at home for long stretches. It certainly should work to our advantage.

“I expect we’ll rally around that and go on some good stretches here.”

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Easier said than done for a team that is just 4-3-4 at the Dome, where the Flames have been unable to establish their style of game as well as they have elsewhere.

Only one team in the loop — Arizona — has fewer home wins than the Flames, which is a tad unfair given how many Calgary games have been postponed due to the team’s pre-Christmas COVID stoppage and the post-holiday attendance restrictions that will cost Canadian teams millions in lost revenues each game.

That said, the league can’t afford to postpone many more if it intends to finish the schedule anywhere close to on time this spring.

And so, the Flames are hoping the fact that 30 of their last 49 games will be at home will serve as an advantage down the stretch.

“We do have a heavy portion of our schedule now at home, so it’s so important that we use that to our advantage,” said assistant coach Ryan Huska.

“You put the Saddledome into the equation — it’s one of the only character buildings still left.

“Throw the altitude into the equation, and we can use this as a place where teams don’t want to come in and play us. It’s up to us now to take advantage of the beginning portion of our schedule. It’s left us in a position to have an opportunity to do some damage at home here.”

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For some reason, the tenacious forecheck, relentless pressure and physicality that have been the team’s hallmarks on the road have yet to be established as readily at the Dome.

They simply haven’t been able to get into any sort of groove at home, as the schedule had the Flames largely playing one and two-game home stints before sending them on long trips that have seen Calgary play a league-high 22 road games.

The fact that the league is soon expected to announce the rescheduling of games to populate what would have been February’s Olympic break means the sporadic nature of the Flames slate is about to change.

And that means some long stretches at home.

“Now we’re going to get very busy and everybody knows that,” said Huska.

“Players love to play a lot of games in succession and if you can have success in those runs you can make a lot of noise in a short period of time.

“When players are feeling good about themselves, and the team is playing well, those are good situations to be in, and we’re going to find ourselves in that situation shortly.”

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After Thursday the Flames’ next game is Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, who will come to town with Sam Bennett for the first time since he was traded by the Flames last season.

While Bennett is sure to be the focal point for the fans and media, the team will see it as a chance to rebound after losing three in a row through Florida and Carolina on their last roadie.

“I think as a team and individually we took a step backwards the last couple games,” said Sean Monahan, whose team has lost three in a row and seven of its last nine.

“These next two are going to be big games for our group, and something we’re really looking forward to.

“We’ve got to use the energy from the crowd. We want to make it a hard place to play. We’ve got to do that as individuals. You’ve got to know who you are matching up against and you’ve got to be better than them.”

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