CALGARY — Predatory and gutless.
The focus around the league heading into Thursday night’s rematch is the fact the two squads enter tonight’s game as the top-ranked outfits in the west.
However, in the Sharks dressing room, there was talk Wednesday about old school accountability.
“We’ll see,” said Evander Kane when asked if he expected things to boil over from last game.
“It’s something hopefully everyone in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are – whether you are a skilled guy, a big guy, a tough guy, a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another.”
Fireworks exploded late in the New Years’ Eve game when the ever-combustible Kane took exception to a high hit by Matthew Tkachuk on Erik Karlsson that drew blood. Kane later jumped Tkachuk and was tossed from the game before things elevated to another level in the final minute.
Bennett laid a clean, yet late-ish open-ice hit on unsuspecting Sharks defenceman Radim Simek that led to a fight between the Flames winger and Barclay Goodrow seconds later.
The Saddledome crowd ate it up as the cherry on top of an 8-5 win to close out 2018.
“My comment was one word (after the game): predatory,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer after Wednesday’s practice in Calgary.
“That’s what it was and that’s what it is.”
The coach wouldn’t discuss whether he was disappointed the league didn’t take action on the play, nor did he spearhead a campaign to promote retribution.
“This isn’t about settling scores, this is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion and it’s going to be physical. I don’t think we’ve ever had an issue walking that line. We play as hard as anybody in the league. We don’t carry an enforcer in order to do that. We rely on our team toughness and our ability to play hard whistle to whistle.
“Hockey players have long memories – you don’t forget stuff like that.”
The Flames shrugged off suggestions there might be retribution, as the team has done a good job handling rough stuff by looking after one another.
Fact is, the kinder, gentler flow to today’s NHL rarely deals with temperature climbs anymore, making Kane’s comments postgame and on Wednesday so interesting.
“I wanted to kind of make sure there was a little bit more action than just talk,” said Kane on Dec. 31, tired of an evening full of trash talk, authored largely by Tkachuk.
“I saw the replay (of the Bennett hit). Boy, it’s funny. Like I said, there’s a lot of talk and then I leave the game and guys get a little taller out there.”
The irony is indeed that while the league keeps getting smaller, players by and large are indeed feeling much taller in a game increasingly devoid of accountability.
“Oh ya, there’s a lot of things disappearing – when I came in ten years ago you had two predominant fighters on your fourth line, and now you’re hard-pressed to have one guy on the team,” said Kane, a skilled winger who is also that guy.
“Look at some of the penalties that are now called, there’s a lot more two minute minors. A lot of that has to do with guys thinking they can get away with it and nobody is going to go after them. The league has changed a lot in that sense.
“There’s still a place — and there always will be — for that accountability. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Joe Pavelski was the one who called Bennet’s hit “gutless” as Simek, who had passed the puck before Bennett finished his check, appeared to have no idea it was forthcoming in the dying moments of a game out of reach.
This one seems different given the stakes in a divisional battle the Flames lead by just four points.
Bennett had best keep his head on a swivel just in case, which likely suits the feisty forward just fine.
Kane bristled when asked if the lack of fighting and accountability in today’s game were for the betterment of the league.
“No, no, no, no, I mean, it’s like one minute you’re going to remove fighting and now hitting is going to be gone and with no hitting and no fighting and no physicality in the game half the league would probably be gone — you’d have a lot of different types of players in this league,” said Kane, a throwback who sits second in the NHL with 103 penalty minutes to go with his 21 goals.
“I think that’s what makes the NHL so great, is there are so many concepts and attributes you have to have to be an NHL player and that physical part of the game is one of them.
“I think that’s great (these two teams dislike one another.) Those are fun games to play in. It also helps we’re the top two teams in our division. Points are big and emotions are going to be high.
“We’re all going to find out how it plays out, but I don’t think anybody is too forgetful of what happened the last time we were in this building.”