CALGARY – The morning after being blanked 4-0 by the Minnesota Wild, the Calgary Flames turned their attention toward preparing for their final 19 games of the season with two new players in the fold.
Acquired at yesterday’s NHL trade deadline, defenceman Steve Staios and goaltender Vesa Toskala practised with their new teammates at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Thursday in preparation for Friday night’s home game against the New Jersey Devils.
Currently ninth in the Western Conference standings, the Flames (30-24-9) acquired Staios on Wednesday in exchange for defenceman Aaron Johnson and a third-round draft pick in either 2010 or 2011. It’s the first time the Flames and Oilers have ever made a direct trade with each other.
“To me, it couldn’t have been a better situation,” said Staios, who admitted it felt a little strange to pull a Flames jersey over his shoulders and practise with his once bitter rivals. “I know a lot of the guys here and I’ve competed against them for a long time and have a high respect level for them so I’m really excited.”
While the Oilers were languishing far out of the playoff picture, Staios is pleased to join a team in the thick of an intense battle to earn a post-season berth with just seven points separating seventh through 13th spot in the Western Conference
“It’s been a while since I’ve played some meaningful games,” said the 36-year-old defenceman. “With the chance of getting into the playoffs and getting onto a roll with this team, I’m just thrilled. I have the experience of going through these types of situations … I’ll lay it on the line and see if we can’t put this team over the edge.”
Assistant coach Dave Lowry said Staios will provide the Flames with a much needed veteran presence in the locker room down the stretch.
“Steve knows that he’s got to get ready to play a game tomorrow as a member of the Calgary Flames,” Lowry said. “He’s a character guy and he’s been that way throughout his career. He’ll have no problem coming in and fitting in.”
When he found out about the trade, forward Craig Conroy couldn’t believe that the Flames and Oilers had broken their unofficial trade embargo.
“I thought it was an unwritten law that you couldn’t do that,” said Conroy, while adding Staios has a knack for making life miserable for opposing forwards. “He’s a tough guy to play against and it’s fun to finally have him on my team.”
While goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was given the day off along with fellow Olympians Niklas Hagman and Jarome Iginla, Toskala suited up for his first practice as a member of the Flames after being acquired at the deadline from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for fellow back-up netminder Curtis McElhinney.
“From now on I’m just trying to help this team to win games and trying to stay positive here,” said Toskala, who has known Kiprusoff dating back to their days on Finland’s national junior team and when they were both with the San Jose Sharks. “We just saw each other this morning first time here and that’s it. It’s always nice to see friends no matter where you’re going. He’s a good guy. He’s one of the top goalies in the league.”
Kiprusoff had similar praise for his countryman and fellow puck blocker.
“I’ve played with him in the minors earlier and I’ve known him for a long time, so it’s good to see him here,” Kiprusoff said. “I know he’s a pretty good goalie so he can help us out.”
Despite all the new additions to Calgary’s lineup and the team’s lacklustre effort against the Wild, Lowry said the Flames have to do everything they can to rebound with a victory against the Devils.
“We have to push ahead, we have to find a way to be better and we have to find a way to win a hockey game tomorrow,” Lowry said. “The big thing is that we have to make sure that we’re the best prepared team and we’re the team that goes out and executes our game plan and plays our system the best.
“We’re at the stage of the year where every game is critical and every team is gearing up for the same opportunity. We put ourselves in a position where we have to win every night.”