Flames prep for pivotal California swing

Flames prepare for pivotal California swing before all-star break

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

CALGARY – The Calgary Flames are on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference standings. Their upcoming four-game road trip will provide a good indication of whether they belong in the post-season mix.

After a stop in Arizona on Thursday to face the Coyotes, the Flames take on two teams hovering just above them in the Western Conference standings — the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and the Los Angeles Kings next Monday.

Calgary wraps up the trip next week in Anaheim before sending captain Mark Giordano and rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau to Columbus, Ohio, for the NHL’s all-star game Jan. 24-25.

The Flames were ninth in the conference at 22-18-3 with just three points but four teams separating them from fifth Monday. So Calgary needs to parlay its light schedule in January into precious points.

The Flames eked out a 1-0 win in Vancouver on Saturday and then came home for a second four-day break this month.

Head coach Bob Hartley spoke earlier this season about breaking the season up into five-game segments.

“It’s all about looking at the standings. We’re right there,” Hartley said Monday. “This is a crucial segment for us. We won our first game in Vancouver and now we’re going on a four-game road trip. We need minimums of eight points per segment.”

So that math requires either a sweep in California should the Flames get upset in the desert by the Coyotes, or taking at least two of three in The Golden State.

Calgary’s last win in Anaheim was almost 11 years ago on Jan. 19, 2004.

With the Ducks pulling away atop the Pacific Division, the “four-point” games in Los Angeles and San Jose take on more importance in Calgary’s goal of making the NHL post-season after a five-year absence.

“This is very important for us, this stretch,” Giordano said.

“We’re playing a lot of teams in our conference and our division. Really, we want to set ourselves up to be in a playoff spot at that break. That would be ideal. To do that, we have to have a really good trip there.”

The Flames have been dominant against Arizona this season, going 3-0 against the Coyotes, who own the second-worst record in the Western conference.

Calgary is 1-1 versus both the Sharks and the Ducks and owns a 2-0 record against the Kings so far this season. The Flames edged the Ducks 4-3 in a shootout at home Nov. 18, but lost 3-2 at the Honda Centre on Nov. 25.

The Flames blanked host San Jose 2-0 the following day, but a 3-2 loss Dec. 6 to the visiting Sharks was the start of an eight-game losing streak for Calgary.

The Flames doubled the visiting Kings 2-1 on Dec. 29, but it was their heist of a win at the Staples Center on Dec. 22 that arrested the skid.

Trailing 3-1 after two periods, Gaudreau completed his hat trick in the third period and Giordano scored in overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“We had some luck there I would say,” Giordano said. “They’re a team that’s been known to turn it on in the second half of the year in years past.

“We believe we can play with anyone, but we’ve got to be willing, especially on this trip here to win some of those games like we did the other night (in Vancouver) and grind them out.”

Calgary will have played just eight games in 20 days at the all-star break, which is compensation for their hectic early-season schedule.

“We played so many at the start, it felt like, and we had to let the other teams catch up at some point,” Giordano said. “Going into the all-star break I think everyone will be around the same amount of games.

“Our coaches have done a great job of giving us proper rest in these breaks so we’ll be refreshed and hopefully that pays off.”

Calgary’s optional skate Monday included a handful of skaters, but three goaltenders.

Joni Ortio earned the 36-save shutout in Vancouver after his call-up from the American Hockey League.

Karri Ramo had been dealing with an undisclosed upper body injury, but the Finn took shots Monday and Hartley didn’t rule out Ramo’s return during their road trip. Regular starter Jonas Hiller gave the Flames a trio in net.

“I personally hate to carry three goalies,” Hartley said. “No one likes to have three goalies around. That’s a pain. It’s not healthy, but that’s our situation right now.

“Karri is starting to feel good. He’s still not medically cleared. We’re going to keep three until we find out really what’s going on with Karri. He worked out yesterday and got a good on-ice workout today. We felt it was minor at the time of the injury and we’re still following the same timetable.”

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