CALGARY – The Calgary Flames aren’t making things any easier for Brad Treliving.
And that’s a good thing.
As the club’s GM contemplates how he can improve his hockey team, new heroes seem to be emerging every night.
On Friday, it was Andrew Mangiapane’s turn, scoring the winner in the final five minutes of a 1-1 game against the visiting Ducks.
Two nights earlier, Austin Czarnik scored the winner against the Islanders, as he did two nights before that.
All told, that duo has combined for eight goals this season. Slightly less than the 11 from Sam Bennett, who kick-started this four-game winning streak with the winner in Pittsburgh.
The Flames are on a roll again, but this time it’s the supporting cast playing the most prominent of roles.
All four game-winners have come from forwards playing in the bottom six.
The unsung heroes like Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway and the aforementioned have become the go-to guys, while the stars who carried this club until the all-star break have struggled to find their stride.
• Johnny Gaudreau has one goal his last 11 outings.
• Elias Lindholm has two in his last eight.
• Sean Monahan has two in his last 11.
• Matthew Tkachuk is scoreless in 13.
So what’s a GM to do?
Tops in the west with a blend of veterans and youth, the Flames share a bond in their room easily comparable to that of the 2003-04 team that willed (and waterskied) itself to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Messing with that chemistry is something the coach and GM are hesitant to do.
Bill Peters suggested exactly that after the morning skate, insisting he loves the team he has and is anxious to move forward with the current roster intact.
The muckers are buying time for the big guns to regain their form, winning games with a stronger focus on defensive play and the stellar support of goalie Mike Smith of late.
Making his season-high fifth start in a row Friday, Smith rebounded from a costly stickhandling snafu behind his net that tied the game to make 25 saves in the 2-1 victory.
Needless to say, Treliving needn’t touch his goaltending tandem by Monday’s deadline.
Defensively, he’d still like to add a veteran blueliner to help the four youngsters who’ve played roles on the back end this year.
But swapping anyone from the current crew seems an impossibility the way everyone on board is responding to the added expectations and pressure on this group.
Draft picks would be the most likely ammunition used to snare defensive help, with the big question still looming over whether he’d consider using his first rounder to make a significant add to the top six.
The Flames clearly feel every player on the team is slotted into the perfect role right now aside from veteran utility man Michael Frolik. As valuable as they see him in various playoff roles, you can bet Treliving is examining the cost of bringing in any one of Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes or Chris Kreider to play on Mikael Backlund’s right side instead of Frolik.
Treliving caused a bit of a stir by taking in the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden Thursday. The Rangers staffed the Flames game Friday, feeding the rumour mill ever more.
Given the price tag Columbus paid to snare Matt Duchene, it’s unlikely Treliving is willing to pay even more for Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin, although Flames fans can dream.
In the meantime, the team continues rolling along.
“We’re deep right now – we’ve got a deep team and a deep organization and it’s nice,” said Peters.
“It’s a good problem to have. We’ve got too many guys that can probably play. We can’t play them all. It’s competitive. Guys want to play.”
More to the point, guys want to stay.
“It’s out of our control what happens – all we can do is play our best hockey and keep doing what we are doing,” said Smith, brimming once-again with the sort of confidence that made him an all-star last year.
“First and foremost we’ve got a great bunch of guys in here. It makes it easy to come to the rink and play for the guy next to you. There are no egos in here. It starts with that. It’s one thing to have good guys in here, but we’re getting it done on the ice too. When you put those things together it makes it a lot of fun to come in here after a big win.”
A feeling they’ve experienced as much as any team (outside Tampa) in the league.