A 6-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday was a huge embarrassment for the Calgary Flames.
However, that defeat could be just what the doctor ordered as the Pacific Division-leading Flames (45-20-9, 99 points) prepare to play host to the Central Division cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes (22-47-5, 49 points) on Saturday.
The Flames would have clinched a playoff spot with a win against Vegas, but instead saw their five-game winning streak end emphatically in the type of game that should snap everybody back to attention for the task at hand.
“This is a team that’s still figuring out what it’s like to have the opportunity to get in,” said coach Darryl Sutter, who said his squad lacked urgency and emotion.
“The last three days have been about individual achievement instead of team achievement,” Sutter added.
The Flames could clinch a spot even before puck drop if the Golden Knights lose to the Edmonton Oilers in a matinee meeting, but Calgary will be focused on rebounding against the Coyotes.
“We’re in first place in our division for a reason so, we’ll be fine,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “I don’t think you turn the page completely. You realize what went wrong and then you drop it.”
Vegas is outside of a playoff spot currently, but the veteran club has a bunch of key players returning from injury in time to make a push. The Flames received a reminder how much better a team can be with extra motivation.
“We know that they’re a way better team than what the standings show, and ultimately if you want to go far this year, it’s going to have to go through them,” Tkachuk said. “It’s unfortunate that we kind of we dropped the ball against them. Hopefully we get another crack at them.”
Arizona, which sits last in the entire league, arrives in Calgary after Thursday’s 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, although coach Andre Tourigny was not going to rip apart his players publicly.
“I liked the way we played in the third period,” said Tourigny, noting his team surrendered only 27 shots on goal. “We showed more pride in the third period, and to me that’s our team. That’s the way we have to fight. We talked about it before the game, and we got better on that.”
Part of the reason Tourigny remains cognizant of his charges is the fact they are missing a slew of key players — including Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Jakob Chychrun and Antoine Roussel — while playing out the string with many young players trying to prove they can skate at the NHL level.
As a result, the Coyotes are on a five-game losing skid — a stretch in which they have surrendered at least five goals in each outing and been outscored 29-6 — and on a 2-11-1 slide.
“The NHL to me is full of slumps. You need to be able to react to slumps,” Tourigny said. “If you cannot get out of slumps in the NHL, you’re in trouble. You will be a streaky player. The NHL is not about that, it’s about being good every day. It’s about consistency. You cannot have an eight-out-of-10 day. The guy on the other side is too good.
“You need to make sure you’re on top of your game every night.”
–Field Level Media