‘They call it tradition now’: Flames’ Coleman has shot at NHL record

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You can’t score an empty-netter if you’re sitting on the bench in those crucial defensive moments.

That’s important to remember as Calgary Flames forward Blake Coleman threatens the NHL’s single-season record for most goals into a vacated cage.

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As he told Postmedia: “Ultimately, you’re putting a game away. And that’s always good.”

Indeed, it is.

The 32-year-old Coleman put another game away Thursday, sealing a 4-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Adin Hill had been pulled for an extra attacker.

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Coleman, who is one of the most respected leaders in the Flames’ locker-room and has been frequently wearing an ‘A’ as proof of it, has now registered seven empty-netters during the 2023-24 campaign. He leads the loop in that category.

“The boys, they just know it’s pretty automatic if I get the puck on my stick late in a game,” Coleman said with a wide smile, a hint that he has been getting an earful from his buddies for sinking so many gimmes. “They call it tradition now.”

This tradition has turned into a record quest, although Coleman insists it’s the furthest thing from his mind.

The mark for most empty-net notches in one winter is nine, which is shared by Pavel Bure (1999-00) and Alex Ovechkin (2021-22). With 16 regular-season dates remaining, starting with Saturday’s showdown against the Montreal Canadiens (5 p.m. MT, CBC/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), Coleman needs to tuck two more to match those legendary lamp-lighters.

“It’s good company,” he said. “It’s not the guys that you necessarily think of that are out there to kill the game, but it shows obviously those guys were trusted in that situation. I would imagine Bure’s were more breakaways, and Ovi was probably just sniping from wherever. But it’s an impressive list of players.”

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‘Trust’ is the key word.

When Flames bench boss Ryan Huska sends out his shutdown line — captain Mikael Backlund between Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane — in the late stages, twine-tickling is not the top priority.

‘I’m pretty good when the goalie is out’

On Thursday’s empty-net sequence, Backlund disrupted a scoring chance with a savvy stick-play, calmly collected the puck and spied Coleman as he hustled up the left wing. Not wanting to risk an icing call that would force a defensive-zone draw, he crossed centre before lofting a 90-footer that was right on target.

“I’m pretty good when the goalie is out,” he quipped afterward.

Give him credit, he’s darn good when the goalie is in, too.

Keep in mind, Coleman has also slipped 21 pucks past the opposing backstop, included the tiebreaking bury midway through Thursday’s third period against the defending champion Golden Knights.

Coleman’s season total of 28 is a new career-high. He is tied with Yegor Sharangovich for the team lead in tallies.

This heart-and-soul sort is also a plus-23, the best rating of any dude on a squad that sits outside of the playoff picture.

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“Those are guys that typically do things the right way,” Huska said of Backlund-Coleman-Mangiapane trio. “And in Blake’s case, he understands how to win and I think when games are on the line, he knows that sometimes that means you’re going to have to block a shot. It means you’re going to have to be positionally sound.

“At the same time, when you’re playing with a goalie out at the other end of the ice, you have an opportunity there. I know his teammates give him a hard time because he always seems to be the guy that is getting them this year, but he deserves to be out there because of the way he plays the game.”

There’s no doubt that No. 20 will continue to be tapped in those pressure-packed, clinging-to-a-lead scenarios.

Question is, can he capitalize with a couple more empty-netters and add his name to the NHL history books?

“I don’t put too much thought into it,” Coleman protested after Friday’s off-ice workout at the Saddledome. “To me, it’s just you’re put out in that situation to put the game away, and we’ve been able to do that pretty frequently.”

ICE CHIPS: Asked Friday for an update on starting netminder Jacob Markstrom, who has missed consecutive contests due to a lower-body injury, Huska replied: “He’s day-to-day for us and we are doing our best to get him in a position to come back and play games really soon.” While Markstrom hasn’t been spotted on the ice since Tuesday, it’s worth noting he was one of seven veterans summoned for a leadership meeting prior to that bounce-back against the Golden Knights.

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