CALGARY – Geoff Ward spoke earlier this week about the importance of bringing more anger to the rink.
On Thursday night he was one of the only ones who practised what he preached.
Following yet another evening full of uninspiring hockey from his club, Ward unleashed seven minutes of fury directed at a team that has lost three in a row at the most inopportune of times.
“It’s about compete and how hard you want to compete,” said Ward following a 3-2 Calgary Flames loss to the Nashville Predators after which he dished on his team’s engagement of late. “At the end of the day, if there is a loose puck, are they getting it or we getting it? Right now, we’re not getting it enough. Say what you want but we need to be way, way more desperate.”
Asked about the team’s identity, he scoffed.
“I think we’ve gotta find it,” he said of a squad that has now won just twice in its last eight – both in shootouts.
“I thought we had it for a while. We’ve gotta find it again. We tried to be a scoring team last year. You saw what happened during playoff time. We’ve got to check in now and make sure we get back to our identity because we’re not there now. Collectively, we have to be better, we have to be more desperate, we have to compete harder, and we have to understand what our identity is and we have to start playing to it.”
Earlier in the day he spoke of the importance of the players taking over the room at this time of year – showing initiative, heart and a hatred for losing.
“Everybody understands how they’ve gotta play,” said Ward of the structure in place. “At the end of the day, you’ve gotta go out and play. So, right now, if we’re having issues with how we need to play, if we don’t understand how we need to play, then we’re in trouble. You look at good teams at this time of the year. Veteran players on the teams drive them, in a lot of cases.”
Not here, he suggests. Not for awhile. And, he adds, it isn’t a malaise that came about just because captain Mark Giordano missed his first game with his hamstring injury.
“This isn’t something that just happened tonight,” said Ward, whose team is now just one point ahead of Nashville and Winnipeg for the final wild-card spot.
“I mean, we’ve played stretches where we’ve been good. But, consistently, these are the things at playoff time that you have to pay attention to all of the time. You guys tell me. Look at teams that go on long playoff runs. What stands out about them? We have a decision to make as a team — are we prepared to do it? Because if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to get more of the same. That’s the bottom line.”
Part of the frustration around the room afterwards was that a Travis Hamonic pass buried by Sam Bennett put the hosts up 1-0 just 33 seconds in.
Alas, 76 seconds later the Predators tied it and soon thereafter went up 2-1. A common turnabout.
From there the Flames did well to make Juuse Saros look like Vladislav Tretiak, sending the bulk of their 39 shots on him from the perimeter – a theme of late.
“The dirty jobs, we have to pay attention to those jobs,” Ward said.
“There’s a lot of things in a hockey game that need to be done. But just do things that make a difference. You want to be an uncommon player at this time of the year? Do the things that everybody can do, but a lot of people don’t want to do. Block a shot. Take a hit to make a play. Get to the front of the net. Get greasy in the dirty areas of the game. I think structure-wise, we’re all fine with the structure, but there’s a lot more that goes into building a house than the structure. Once you’ve got the foundation up, you’ve got the joists up and everything else, you’ve got to fill the house out. So for us, we’ve got to make sure that we’re dong a lot more in those gritty areas that make differences in games.”
The surging Predators went up 3-1 midway through a second period, followed by a seeing-eye shot from Rasmus Andersson from the point that closed the gap to 3-2 with 30 minutes remaining.
From there, the Flames opened the third period with a stretch of futility that saw them take 12 minutes to record their first shot.
You read that right.
“When you come out in the third period and you don’t get a shot for the first 10 minutes and you’re in a one goal game…” shrugged Ward, demonstrating a frustration level befitting of the team’s first three-game slide under his guidance.
“We’re making a lot of goalies look good right now because we’re not getting traffic there. You look at our goals tonight? Traffic. The other one’s a net drive. We talk about playing inside all the time. Want to score in this league? You’ve got to play inside. You’ve got to be prepared to play inside. Tonight, we didn’t play inside enough, again.”
No argument here.
“Even before our first shot in the third we missed the net a bunch of times – they were doing a good job filling the lanes,” added Milan Lucic. “We’ve just got to find our confidence again in the scoring areas. I think we’re letting the goalie be a star too many nights against us. Just bear down when we get our chances because I thought we created enough of them tonight.
“A good game, we just didn’t get the result.”
The coach disagreed.
“We can be better in a lot of areas, but at the end of the day, at this time of year, it comes down to compete,” said Ward, whose club now hits the road for games in tough barns in Vancouver and all three California stops.
“How bad do you want it? I can’t say it any more plainer than that.”