Struggling Flames focus on getting back to playing 'simple hockey'

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In some ways, it was a goal that could almost serve as a template for what the Calgary Flames need to do.

They got the puck deep and then Connor Zary recovered it. He passed it to Nazem Kadri, who cycled it back to MacKenzie Weegar.

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From there, Weegar fired the puck towards the Chicago Blackhawks net, where it snuck through a screen and found its way across the goal-line.

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It was nothing pretty. It won’t show up on any end-of-season highlight packages.

But it was a goal.

And those have been hard to come by for the Flames recently.

“It’s a simple game at the end of the day,” Weegar told reporters in Chicago post-game. “You get pucks deep, you forecheck the D hard, you get the puck back to the point, get a screen in front of net and it’s just a shot on net. It’s nothing special.

“We need to get back to playing simple hockey and getting our work ethic we’ve got to play for each other, with a ‘What have you done for me lately?’ mentality. Guys have to start taking this opportunity and (running ) with it.”

In the end, Weegar’s goal wasn’t enough for the Flames to overcome the three-goal hole they dug themselves against the lowly Blackhawks. They’d wind up losing 3-1 and now find themselves 15 points back of the Vegas Golden Knights, who are sitting in the Western Conference’s second wildcard spot after losing in overtime to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.

The playoffs aren’t happening for these Flames, but that doesn’t mean they want to be losing every game.

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And they weren’t happy with the way they played against the Blackhawks.

The group’s performance got better as the game went on, but they were down 2-0 after the first period and never recovered.

“I didn’t like our first period, I don’t think we were connected at all,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “We had defencemen and forwards not on the same page with how we had to play. Second and third we got better, but I don’t like the way we started the game tonight.”

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom battles Chicago Blackhawks forward Landon Slaggert at United Center in Chicago on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Photo by Paul Beaty /The Associated Press

The Flames have now lost four straight games and seven of their last nine contests. In these most recent four losses, they’ve managed to score only six goals.

The first step towards getting back on track is probably scoring lightning the lamp with more regularity. That’s easier to write than it is to do, of course, and is probably oversimplifying things a bit.

But making things simple is exactly what the Flames are aiming to do right now.

Weegar talked about playing “simple hockey” and Flames captain Mikael Backlund spoke about much the same thing when he was asked by reporters in Chicago about how the Flames could fix what’s ailing them.

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“I think we’ve got to do the little things right all over the ice and if you do that you’re going to get rewarded,” Backlund said. “That’s how this league works, you’ve got to do the little things if you want to get the offensive looks, and then you’ve got to bury them when you get your chances.”

The Flames have 11 games left this season, starting with Thursday night in St. Louis against the Blues.

Nothing about this campaign has been easy. Important veterans have been traded away and there’s been adversity seemingly at every turn.

But there’s still pride in the room. They’d like to win a few of these remaining games, and the first step towards doing that is going to be scoring more goals.

“It’s been difficult for us to score right now, but when things are tough you’ve gotta get in there and work for your goals,” Weegar told reporters in Chicago. “You can’t just stand around and expect the puck to come to you or you’re hoping to get a breakaway or what-not. You’ve got to get greasy and work for it.”

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