Flames hold players-only meeting after frustrating start to season

Flames forwards Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett discuss the team's mindset after a stretch of frustrating games, and a few losses, says they just got to each up their games a bit, and move on.

It was a path Rasmus Andersson clearly wasn’t keen on going down.

With his team reeling from its third loss in a row, the Calgary Flames defenceman was asked if the latest setback had prompted a players-only meeting.

“Yes,” said Andersson, unwilling to expand.

Pressed on whether it was full of frustration or rational discussion, he stayed the course.

“Players know about it – that’s the most important part. We’d like to keep it in the room.”

Understandable.

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Details colouring their discussion weren’t needed to make it clear the Flames find themselves in a frustratingly uncomfortable position these days. After opening the season with a 2-0-1 record, the team has stumbled following its five-day break with three outings in which the team’s play varied significantly from period to period.

The scariest thing may just be that the team has felt good about much of its play, but it hasn’t been enough. Thus, a closed-door confab six games in.

“I think it’s really encouraging,” said coach Geoff Ward of the meeting.

“I think that says something (about) our leadership group. There are a set of standards our guys aspire to live up to. There’s a level of work we expect and when guys feel it hasn’t been there for a full 60 minutes they feel it’s something that has to be talked about.”

Perhaps more troubling than their 4-2 setback Thursday night in Montreal were post-game suggestions by Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan questioning the team’s emotional engagement as things unravelled.

You can bet that was discussed.

What the Flames could really use right now is a double or triple dose of the Ottawa Senators. Alas, the free spot on Canada’s Bingo card won’t be in play for another month.

Instead, what lies ahead, as the team tries to cobble together some semblance of confidence, is a Saturday night matchup in Montreal against the league’s hottest and second-highest scoring team.

Two cheapies by the Flames in the final 78 seconds made Thursday’s score flattering for the visitors, who let David Rittich down by “taking their foot off the pedal” following two power-play goals by Montreal in the first.

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“Every team goes through adversity at some point in a season, and for us it’s right now — we’ve got to come together as a group,” said Milan Lucic, who scored his second goal in as many games Thursday.

“Obviously we know we’re not happy with the way things are starting to go, but we’ve just got to stay the course, and add some compete, and we’re in these hockey games — it’s just about moving on,” added Sam Bennett.

Ward has implemented a 12-hour rule that encourages players, coaches and staffers to park a previous game the next morning. To do that, Ward aimed to make practice a little lighter Friday, ending with a shootout that often prompts plenty of laughs.

“We talked about it yesterday and we went out today and tried to have some fun with each other,” said Andersson, whose club took solace in holding the Habs to 21 shots. “You obviously leave the rink with a little better feeling now.”

The goal is to leave town with that same feeling, putting a collective bounce in their step before facing the surging Jets in Winnipeg for three straight.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

What’s puzzling about the Flames struggles of late is that Johnny Gaudreau is on a six-game scoring streak and several of his star-studded teammates aren’t far behind in points.

Andersson has made a seamless transition to the first pairing and has done well to anchor one of the league’s best power plays.

Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin have yet to allow a five-on-five goal and their star goaltender is playing as advertised.

Yet, the losses mount as bad bounces and untimely miscues conspire against them.

“I think it’s important to keep things in perspective,” said Ward, as a Calgary fan base starts panicking early in a truncated season.

“We are doing a lot of things well. We haven’t had much puck luck some nights defensively – I think we’ve kicked in six goals ourselves. The one thing adversity will do for you is make you stronger if you don’t let it break you. Right now we’re getting a little bit of it and we have to react to it the right way. When that game gets to 2-0 we have to find a way to regroup and make it a 2-1 game. These are the things that are going to help us be battle-tested.”

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