As a farmer, you can bet Darryl Sutter complains about the weather with the best of 'em.
As a coach, his bugaboo has been his club’s schedule. All season.
Early on it was far too road-heavy, and of late it’s been scarcely populated due to postponements.
Well, the NHL finally put the Jolly back into the Rancher with a revamped slate that now has the Flames playing seven-straight home games Feb. 9-21.
“There was a time when you’re not even sure if you’re a part of the league, the way the schedule was,” smiled Sutter, whose club had ten games to reschedule due to their Christmas Covid count and the subsequent distaste for playing games in a dry, half-full arena.
“I’m just glad it’s in place and that it’s official. To get seven of the eight (home games) in (mid-February) is good. My other wish was that the Chicago/Nashville back-to-back stayed as a back-to-back, which it did. All in all, I think we have to be happy with that.”
With his club idle for all but two of the last 13 days, Sutter feels his nomadic bunch finally has a chance to start getting into a rhythm with a homestand originally intended to be part of the ill-fated Olympic break.
“It’s hard to get into any routine or any rhythm, and I know from being a player you don’t like to practice four days in a row or take three days in a row off. It’s the worst thing for you as an athlete. And we’ve had to do that how many times? I know it has affected them.”
To date the Flames have played a league-low 13 home games, resulting in a distasteful, 5-4-4 record the team knows it needs to improve significantly on.
No NHL team has fewer home wins.
“You know how I’ve been about the schedule, and I’m not sure all in a row is good either because I’ve never really done it,” said Sutter, suggesting perhaps his old home at Chicago Stadium used to house similar homestands.
“But I think as the season goes along we can say February and March look like good schedules because they are home-based. You can say that for the first time this year.
“That’s why we want to play well going into the all-star break (Feb 4-6), because I think our season will probably be decided in February and March.”
After spending the bulk of the first half of the season as the league’s most-travelled team, the Flames home/road ratio for the next two months will be 8-3, followed by a 12-4 mix.
“It’s certainly a good schedule for us,” said Blake Coleman, whose club has had as disjointed a season as any in the NHL, thanks largely to a 19-day break as the team was ravaged by positive Covid test results.
“I think it should allow us to get into a little bit of a rhythm at home," he added.
“Obviously we’ve got a little catching up to do as far as our home to away games go. ... It will be nice to get home and get acclimated here and just get used to that routine and get things going.”
Sutter is particularly jazzed the seven-game homestand starts on Feb. 9, giving the team an extra day coming out of the upcoming all-star break to practice and get back into the swing of things.
The seven-game 'Domestand starts with a murderous back-to-back set with Vegas and Toronto, followed by visits from the Islanders, Blue Jackets and Ducks before Mark Giordano visits for the first time with Seattle on Hockey Night in Canada Feb. 19.
“You understand that you want the players to get into a rhythm and get pissed off when they lose, and feel good about themselves when they win, and remember it and take it into their next game - when you’re a good team that’s what you do,” said Sutter.
“I’ve said it enough, the schedule has been frustrating and the whole Covid thing has been frustrating, so you’ve just got to look at it one game at a time.”
For the Flames that means focusing on another team that has struggled through a sporadic schedule: Edmonton.
The Flames travel there Saturday to face a frustrated bunch that have been even worse of late than the eight losses in 11 outings the Flames have posted.
“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time or a bad time, to be quite honest,” said Sutter, when asked if it was fortuitous to face the Oilers who have lost six in a row and 12 of their last 14.
“With the way the schedule has been, and they’re in the same position as us, it’s been really hard to get any continuity.”