While the Calgary Flames aren’t off to as poor of a start as their Alberta rivals in Edmonton, there are aspects of their game that head coach Glen Gulutzan is not at all happy about.
Namely their lack of discipline.
After finishing last season as the most penalized team in the league with an average of 11.5 penalty minutes per game, Gulutzan expected improvement from his team this season. Through seven games they’re averaging 12.4 PIM/G, but because penalties are up around the league, they’re currently the ninth-most penalized team.
But after a 2-1 loss to Carolina Thursday night, Gulutzan sounded off.
Matthew Tkachuk took a needless roughing penalty at the end of the second period, which led to Carolina’s second, and eventual game-winning, goal a little more than a minute into the third period. The Flames head coach was frustrated that his team is slipping back into the bad habits from the start of last season.
“We’re in the exact same situation that we were last year at this time,” Gulutzan said after the loss. “The only difference is we’re getting better goaltending and better special teams.
“Sometimes when you have four days off between games you come out a little rusty. What’s disappointing is we’re doing the exact same thing we should have learned from last year and did learn from in the second half of the season. We’re right back to where we started.”
Tkachuk’s penalty on Thursday was costly and afterwards the forward said he took the full blame for the loss. And while Gulutzan benched Tkachuk in the third period because of it, the coach didn’t feel it was fair to put the full blame of the loss on Tkachuk.
In fact, the coach defended the 19-year-old because while he takes his fair share of penalties, leading the team with 12 PIMs, he draws more than he takes.
“With ‘Chuck’…he is in the fabric of the game,” Gulutzan said on Friday. “He is in the trenches of the game, the bowels of the game. You have to live with some of the penalties. But he draws more penalties than he takes. He’s second on our team last season in plus-minus.
“That kid is a winner and I’ll live with some of it, but I won’t live with the one yesterday.”
The coach is clearly fed up with his team’s lack of discipline and threatened a loss of ice time for those who don’t smarten up. He spoke of each player having a “bank account” and those in the red (take more penalties than they draw) may not be removed from the lineup, but would certainly see a downtick in time on ice.
By that measure, Sam Bennett and Dougie Hamilton are players to watch, as they have been taking more penalties than they’ve drawn. Hamilton has a minus-3 penalty differential and Bennett is minus-2. Those two players were minus-18 and minus-9, respectively, last season and that kind of continuation is what Gulutzan is fed up and frustrated with.
“It feels like to me it’s the same guys taking penalties, the same types of penalties,” the coach said. “And those guys are gonna dress, but unfortunately are going to lose some of their prime real estate ice time. We’ll just clean it up with the guys who can control themselves.”
Gulutzan pointed out that the Flames out-chanced the Hurricanes 5-on-5, something they didn’t do against the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-2 win on Saturday night. He said the team played worse against Vancouver, but that it wasn’t noticed because they earned the win. Against a quality team like Carolina, those shorthanded situations are more likely to come back to bite you, and it’s not a way to play for sustained success.
“Win or lose if you play the right way over a long period of time in this league you will come out on the right side of it,” Gulutzan said. “You can fool the league for a while, but eventually it’ll put you in its place. And if we don’t get going, it’s going to put us in our place.”