CALGARY – While the Calgary Flames were trying to get back on track, two familiar faces reappeared Wednesday.
The Flames had been trying to get rid of winger Ales Kotalik since last summer, twice putting him on waivers before sending him to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat on Jan. 28 to get his US$3-million stipend off the salary-cap books.
But it became necessary to recall the 32-year-old Czech from the minors with recent injuries to centres Brendan Morrison (knee) and David Moss (lower body).
Also, centre Daymond Langkow skated with the Flames for the first time in almost a year. He suffered a broken bone in his neck after being hit by teammate Ian White’s shot March 21, 2010, in Minnesota. Langkow participated in battle drills Wednesday but there’s no timetable yet for a possible return to the lineup.
Perhaps the sight of reinforcements can ignite the stalled Flames, fighting for their playoff lives and losers of three straight for the first time since December. Head coach Brent Sutter hopes so.
“You use absolutely everything you can get,” Sutter said Wednesday. “It’s great to see Ales back and it’s great to see Daymond back practising with us.”
Suddenly struck by the injury bug, the Flames may not feel lucky even though they are.
Clubs ranked fifth through 10th in the Western Conference standings have changed positions almost daily, so it was amazing that Calgary (36-27-9) still held to the eighth and final playoff berth, which is the same spot they were in two losses ago.
The Flames host the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
Anaheim could join Calgary in eighth against St. Louis on Wednesday night and would be ranked higher because of games in hand. But the damage from a pair of losses to Phoenix and one to Vancouver could have been much worse for the Flames. An Anaheim loss Sunday and Nashville’s loss Tuesday kept the Flames from plummeting.
“We’ve caught a few breaks with that, but we’ve got to start putting points up and making it difficult for teams,” centre Matt Stajan said. “Everyone isn’t going to keep sliding and we’ve got to stop the slide right now.”
Sutter publicly blasted his team after Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Coyotes for not playing with a sense of urgency, saying “our play has not been close to where we need it to be.”
He’s concerned all the work his team has done since Dec. 23 to climb out of second-last in the conference is going to be wasted.
“As a head coach it’s my job to make sure it’s addressed and we do everything we can to get it back on track,” Sutter said. “That’s why I was the way I was after the game last night. That’s why I’ve been feeling the way I’ve been feeling for the last four, five or six days.
“I don’t like the amount of turnovers we’ve been giving up, I don’t like the amount of scoring chances we’ve been giving up. Things that we weren’t doing for two and a half months we’ve let get into our game a little bit and we need to straighten it out.
“I want to nail it in the butt because we’ve got 10 games left and every game is such a huge game for us. That urgency has to be at a high level.”
Calgary’s goal starting Dec. 23 was to win two out of every three games. They were well ahead of that pace at 22-7-6 before their recent skid. But this has turned into a season of incredible parity in the Western Conference with other contending teams refusing to drop off.
Are the emotional and physical demands of getting into the playoff hunt now taking their toll on one of the oldest clubs in the NHL? Sutter refuses to believe it.
“It can’t be the case because if that’s the case, things look bleak for us,” he said. “If we want to get to where we want to go, we’ve got to keep pushing, keep driving.
“I know we’ve been doing it since December, but the only choice we had was to turn this thing around so we can be in this situation today, but now that we’re here we can’t let it slip on us. We have to go to the next level now.”
Meanwhile, Kotalik admitted he didn’t think he’d be back with the Flames again once he was assigned to the minors. Kotalik had four goals and 15 assists in 18 games in Abbotsford.
“Right now, there’s not any time for hard feelings,” Kotalik said. “It’s an opportunity to step in and help. Especially this time of year, it’s the most exciting part.”
Calgary acquired Kotalik from the New York Rangers on Feb. 1, 2010 along with Chris Higgins for Olli Jokinen, now back with Calgary, and Brandon Prust.
Kotalik had three goals and two assists in 26 games upon his arrival in Calgary and three goals in 20 games this season before he was assigned to the minors.
With Morrison and Moss sidelined and trade-deadline acquisition Freddy Modin struggling with back issues, Kotalik will be in the lineup against the Avs.
“He’ll get thrown into the fire and see how he does” Sutter said. “He has a chance to get some quality ice time because of those circumstances and we need him to step up for us.”
There had been fears Langkow’s injury would be career-ending. He suffered a setback last summer trying to prepare for training camp. The 34-year-old says he’s confident in his physical abilities now, but Langkow didn’t know when he’ll play his next game.
“It feels kind of like training camp for me,” Langkow said. “I’m going to try and get in the best shape I can and be ready as soon as possible. I’d like to get back and try and help them out, but at this point, it’s just hard to say what’s going to happen.”
Should Langkow be activated from the long-term injury list, his $4.5-million salary would present salary-cap issues for the Flames, particularly now that Kotalik has been recalled.