CALGARY – Against all odds the sun still rose in Calgary the morning after the team’s worst home loss in 18 years.
Amidst the dark clouds that hovered over a team throttled 9-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins were the predictable calls for massive changes.
The most popular targets included goaltender Mike Smith, and coach Bill Peters (yep, ten games in).
However, no one is a bigger target right now in Calgary than T.J. Brodie.
On a team falling short of expectations once again he has long been Calgary’s favourite whipping boy for observers who are convinced he’s incapable of righting the ship on a career trending south.
A gifted skater with solid hands, Brodie’s offensive skills are overshadowed by his penchant for defensive lapses. Turnovers, poor decisions and bad positioning in his own zone too often result in goals and the collective groan of Dome faithful who almost instantly point the finger at no. 7.
Fair or not, it’s the reality he’s dealing with in Calgary and has been for some time.
The masses want him traded, conveniently linking him to any possible deal with the Leafs involving William Nylander.
Given his play so far this season it’s pure folly, although there’s little doubt he would benefit from a change in scenery.
The more reasonable suggestion is that Brodie is scratched – something he’s clearly closer to than ever.
After starting the season reunited with Mark Giordano, Brodie has fallen to the third pairing with Michael Stone.
Next stop may be the press box as Travis Hamonic’s return Thursday bumped hotshot rookie Juuso Valimaki out of the lineup.
Peters is a coach who has had no problem sitting lads with hopes it can spur them on to greater heights upon their return.
It seems almost inevitable Brodie’s number will soon be called, despite the fact he regularly plays over 20 minutes a night.
On Friday he was reunited with Giordano for a spirited practice during which Peters took Brodie aside for a chat.
Brodie certainly didn’t need to be told he has to be better.
“So far it hasn’t been to my expectations so I’ve got to find a way to turn it around,” said Brodie, who offered up a simple plan for how he tries to turn his fortunes. “I think just simplifying, playing smart defensively, trying to shut the other teams down. When there are times to go you go, but don’t force things.”
A stand up guy in terms of owning his miscues, Brodie admits he can dwell on the negatives, beating himself up to further stunt his growth.
“Yes, that’s fair,” said Brodie, 28, whose ill-timed retaliation penalty in Montreal Tuesday helped turn a 1-0 lead into a 3-2 loss. “I want to win and if I’m making mistakes it’s not helping the team and if it’s not helping the team it’s not helping us win.
“It’s tough. It’s one of those things were it compounds and it’s tough to find confidence in your game. When you don’t have that sometimes you may panic and grip the stick too tight and make plays you wouldn’t normally make.”
Brodie’s offence has declined the last two seasons after being split from Giordano.
His pairing with Travis Hamonic last year was a nightmare. His 32 points were respectable, but being minus-16 for the second-straight year wasn’t.
Brodie acknowledged at the beginning of this season things had been moving in the wrong direction.
He switched up his summer training crew and said he hoped becoming a father for the first time would “really put into perspective that hockey isn’t everything.”
He hoped a change in mindset would help him “relax and not worry so much.”
But now he’s worried, especially after the drubbing Thursday that had plenty on edge Friday.
“It’s still not the start I’m looking for but the tough days it’s definitely easier to go home and see her smiling and you sort of forget about the bad things that happen,” said the former 45-point player, who has four assists in ten games.
“It’s definitely not a great feeling but at the same time the more you dwell on it the more it affects the next game.”
There’s no time to wallow as the Flames host Washington Saturday and visit Toronto Monday.
The fear is that three horrific defensive games in a row for the Flames could spiral into something drastic given their schedule.
The soft-spoken Brodie, who is rarely quoted in the media, celebrated his 500th NHL game Tuesday in Montreal.
When the Jumbotron recognized the achievement Thursday night the applause was muted. That certainly had something to do with the lopsided score, to be sure.
He simply can’t win in this town, which is problematic given he has this year and next left on a deal paying him $4.65 million annually.
The hope heading into this season was that he’d be able to stabilize his game alongside Giordano is still there.
How patient the coach is willing to be moving forward is as up in the air as the Flames mental state these days.
RINK NOTE: Peters gave Smith the starting nod Saturday despite allowing 6 goals in 21 shots before being pulled midway through the game.
“We’re about to find out a lot about our team,” said Peters.