CALGARY – The Calgary Flames will round out their regular-season schedule at home on Saturday night and then the real work begins.
Despite missing the playoffs for the second straight season, the Flames (41-29-11) still want to win Saturday’s game against the league-leading Vancouver Canucks (53-19-9).
“We want to finish this off the right way,” said Calgary coach Brent Sutter. “We’ve been a pretty determined and a resilient team here in the last three months. We want to play well to give ourselves a chance to succeed, no different than we have been.
“I understand that the stakes aren’t the same. There’s still a lot of motivation there to play well.”
Sutter definitely doesn’t want to see a repeat of what happened last season when the Canucks trounced the Flames 7-3 at home in the last game of the season.
“That was something that stuck in my head for all the summer…how we lacked urgency and how we lacked motivation in the game,” he said.
Early next week, acting general manager Jay Feaster will start the tough task of evaluating his squad and assessing what has to be done to make improvements.
“We have a lot of work to do this summer,” said Feaster, who will also be under the microscope as to whether the Flames will drop ‘acting’ from his title and actually hire him as GM. “We recognize that there are things we are going to have to do. I’m not going to get into specifics about it now.
“Certainly we recognize that this is unacceptable. Being on the outside looking in for two years, that’s not good enough here.”
One of the biggest reasons that the Flames found success during the second half of the season was the chemistry that developed between captain Jarome Iginla and left winger Alex Tanguay, who the Flames signed to a one-year deal worth US$1.7 million in the off-season.
“I’m really hoping that he gets signed up and back,” said Iginla, who has scored 12 goals in his past nine games to give him 42 on the season. “He’s been great for us this year and he’s been a great signing. I definitely benefited from playing with him. He’s a great passer, but he can score goals. He’s definitely been a big part of our team.”
Following a disappointing 37-point season in 80 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, Tanguay rebounded to put up 22 goals and 46 assists through 78 games with the Flames this year.
“I don’t know how things are going to play out,” said Tanguay, who’s in line for a substantial raise. “I’ve said it all along, I like it here. I came back for a reason. I knew what I was getting myself into. I took the pay cut to give myself a chance at getting my career back on track to where I wanted to put it.”
The Flames also have tough decisions to make regarding unrestricted free agent forwards Curtis Glencross and Brendan Morrison, who needs surgery to repair his knee.
“Brendan Morrison will have surgery to repair the ACL and that will be done on Monday,” confirmed Feaster, who will meet with all the players on Tuesday to discuss the season and their futures. “I’ve already had some preliminary conversations with the pending free agents. Certainly in the process of the exit meetings, we’ll do that as well.”
Before that, Sutter wants the Flames to put in a solid effort against the Canucks to finish the season on a positive note.
“Let’s get through Game 82 here,” Sutter said. “Starting Monday, there’s going to be a lot of focus here, a lot of time put into to get this thing back to where it needs to get to.
“I want this team to move forward and build off of what our last three months have been.”
Sutter added that he’ll wait until after Saturday’s pre-game skate to announce whether goalie Miikka Kiprusoff or backup Henrik Karlsson will start against the Canucks.
“You’ll find out in the morning,” Sutter told the assembled media after the Flames practised at Father David Bauer Arena on Friday. “If Miikka’s going to play, we need Miikka to be totally engaged in the game like he would be treating any other game. I want to make sure that he’s 100 per cent too.”
If Kiprusoff plays, he’ll have a chance to move past Mike Vernon and into top spot on the all-time list for franchise wins. The two are currently tied atop the list with 262 victories.
“I’m not thinking about the record that much,” Kiprusoff said. “It’s nice numbers there but usually when I play, it doesn’t help me to start thinking about some other stuff outside of stopping the puck. That’s what I’m going to do.”
If Kiprusoff gets the start, Iginla said the Flames will do everything they can to help him get the record.
“Absolutely we’d like to see him get it,” Iginla said. “He’s definitely earned it and he’s been great for us. It’d be nice to see him get it at home.”