Whether playing a team outside the Western Conference or a foe blocking the Calgary Flames' improbable playoff drive, whether away or during their current stretch of seven of eight at home, Coach Bob Hartley maintains the same approach.
He's taking the season in seven-game slices — "The Pope would be in town and it would still be like Game 4 of our segment," Hartley said — and he's not altering his message to a team that has so far exceeded expectations.
"It's not time to start singing a different tune to our guys. We don't change a thing," he said last week. "What I like about our team, what I'm very impressed about our players is I don't feel an ounce of pressure or an ounce of nervousness. They're a bunch of kids going to the circus and they're having fun."
Break out the peanuts and cotton candy. The Flames are third in the Pacific Division and are 5-2-1 since losing defenseman and team captain Mark Giordano to season-ending biceps surgery. They're second in the NHL with 10 wins in games they trailed after two periods, and the line of rookie Johnny Gaudreau, second-year forward Sean Monahan and veteran Jiri Hudler is flourishing.
Hartley, who coached Colorado to the Stanley Cup in 2001, devised the idea of dividing the season into segments the length of a playoff series. "You try to recreate kind of a playoff mentality and at the same time set some short-term goals," he said.
It's working: The Flames have "won" or broken even in every segment except a 0-6-1 slide in December. "But credit to our players, they never gave back and next segment we cranked it up," Hartley said. "We forgot about it and we've been good."
Good enough, probably, to bring their circus to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Predators have become prey
A model of consistency this season, the Nashville Predators didn't lose two straight games in regulation until late February and have been vying for first overall. But their first stumble has been a big one.
Unable to protect a 2-0 lead they carried into the third period Sunday against the Ducks, they were stung by a 4-2 loss that extended their slide to 2-8 and left them third in the West. "You get excited for these ones," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It's tough."
The Predators' offense has slowed; they've been outscored, 30-17, the last 10 games. "It's both ways. We're also giving up a lot. That's not a good combination when you don't score and give up goals," Rinne said. "Our game is not that bad. It's just the results. It's the little details that are biting us and you've got to take care of your own end first."
Center Craig Smith said the team is close to turning things around. "We're working on it. We're making changes internally. You're not able to see that from the outside and that's just too bad but we're getting better," he said. "Just continue to be positive. We've got a little ways to go here. We've got some time to fix things and be playing our best game for the playoffs."
This won't end well
The San Jose Sharks made surprisingly few changes after their playoff meltdown against the Kings last spring. The biggest move was taking the captaincy away from Joe Thornton, a controversial decision that resurfaced last week at a crucial and bad time.
General Manager Doug Wilson, addressing a group of season ticket holders, praised the veteran center and said Thornton "carries the weight of the team on his shoulders and he's got such a big heart that when stress comes on him he lashes out at people and it kind of impacts them. The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe." Thornton's reaction was blunt. "Doug just needs to shut his mouth," Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. "I think that's the bottom line. ... All I've got to say is I've been here every day working hard. I haven't taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth."
Owner Hasso Plattner, Wilson and Thornton have spoken and have a working relationship, the Mercury News reported, but the topic is sure to be raised during the Sharks' trip to Canada this week and distract from their already doubtful playoff quest. Matters could be resolved this summer; it will be easier to part ways with Wilson than with Thornton, who has a no-trade clause in a contract that runs through the 2016-17 season.
General managers began three days of meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday by discussing three-on-three overtime if four-on-four doesn't produce a winner. The American Hockey League plays three minutes of four-on-four and then four minutes of three-on-three, reducing the number of games that go to shootouts. Also on the agenda: possibly expanding video review to include goaltender interference calls.
Hockey Vision Las Vegas, the group exploring interest in an NHL team there, said Monday it was within 1,000 of its goal of 10,000 season-ticket deposits. ... The Arizona Coyotes reported losses of $34.8 million to the city of Glendale for fiscal year 2014 including one-time charges for closing the team's sale and buying out forward Mike Ribeiro. Losses for operating the franchise were about $16.5 million, less than expected, according to club President Anthony LeBlanc. He told reporters in Arizona the team "is on a path to success," and he doesn't foresee invoking the clause that would allow the club to leave if losses hit or exceed $50 million after five years. ... Congratulations to St. Louis' Ken Hitchcock on becoming the fourth NHL coach to reach 700 wins.
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