CALGARY – It was no secret that the Calgary Flames were in Brent Sutter’s doghouse Monday.
During an intense 75-minute practice, the Flames head coach told his players that their effort in back-to-back losses to the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings at home last week wasn’t good enough.
“It’s unacceptable,” Sutter said. “I’m not going to accept average players, because when you have average players, you have an average hockey team and we’re a better group than that.”
After playing eight of their first 12 games in the friendly confines of the Pengrowth Saddledome, the Flames (7-4-1) will head out on the road for five of their next six contests. On Wednesday, they’ll face off against the Stars in Dallas before heading to St. Louis to play the Blues the next night.
“In one sense it might be a good thing to get some road games going here too,” said Sutter, who hasn’t been pleased with his team’s recent play. “We lost the last two games and we haven’t played well in either game, so obviously I’m not happy.”
At the beginning of Monday’s practice, Sutter spoke with his players for about 10 minutes before putting them through some drills. At times during the practice, Sutter expressed his displeasure by making his players do wind sprints.
“We messed up drills and we skated for it,” said forward Craig Conroy. “We messed up another drill, we skated for it again. It was a wake-up call for us and we’ve got to respond now.”
Having played for Sutter during his days in the Western Hockey League with the Red Deer Rebels, defenceman Dion Phaneuf wasn’t surprised with the intense ice session.
“As a group, we haven’t been good enough in our games and we didn’t start practice off good enough and it kind of snowballed from there,” said Phaneuf, who was asked what Sutter said to the players. “That’s for us to discuss internally. I don’t think that we have to comment on what was said. I think the practice showed what we deserved and that’s about it.”
The practice also featured a few drills where players battled each other for possession of the puck. Whether it was forward Curtis Glencross battling with blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester, Phaneuf going toe-to-toe with captain Jarome Iginla or Conroy clashing with Adam Pardy, players weren’t afraid to get physical.
“We can be more physical and we can be more aggressive,” Conroy said. “If we go out there and hit teams like we just hit out own teammates, we’re going to be a much better team.”
By getting his players to be more intense in practice, Sutter is now hoping they’ll carry that over into game situations.
“It’s accepting and not allowing yourself as an individual to accept mediocrity,” he said. “I’m not brought up that way, I’m not that way as a coach and I’m not going to allow the team to be average. Either guys buy into it or they don’t.”
Judging by the reaction from players, Sutter’s message got through.
“We got what we deserved,” said forward Dustin Boyd. “He just wants us to battle hard for a full 60 minutes. I don’t think we’ve done that. We want to go out there and have good practice habits and have that translate into a game.”
Forward Daymond Langkow and Eric Nystrom missed the practice to recover from “bumps and bruises” they sustained during Saturday night’s game against the Wings.
“I guess we’ll know come Wednesday whether they’re capable of playing or not,” said Sutter, noting that it’s a good time to let the pair rest up with three days off between games.
With only four of their next 17 games at home, Calgary players realize they’ll have to heed Sutter’s advice in order to return to their winning ways.
“We have a good, talented team,” Bouwmeester said. “It’s just a matter of putting in the work and being more consistent.”