Call it the product of a lesson learned the hard way.
It may seem preposterously early in the NHL schedule for a team to start talking about how it needs to turn it around, step up its game, and find a sense of urgency.
But sometimes cliches are the most direct way to convey a truth - the Calgary Flames learned that to their detriment last season when a pitiful start cost them a playoff spot.
“We know how hard it is to dig out . . . it’s not panic, but we definitely need to raise our play,” Calgary captain Jarome Iginla said before the Flames’ annual visit to Montreal, where they provided the opposition for the Canadiens’ home opener, After an 0-2 start Calgary could fairly be described as team bent on making things right.
“We knew we had a job to do tonight,” Calgary winger and onetime Hab Alex Tanguay said after his team’s first victory of the nascent season.
Now it is the Canadiens who will be facing questions about an indifferent start to the season, having lost 4-1 and managing to look quite bad doing it.
This was a home opener that seemed strangely devoid of atmosphere - the pricey seats were half-empty by the middle of the third period.
It was also a game where pitting a pair of goaltenders on the cusp of milestones, it was therefore pre-ordained that only one would reach it.
Carey Price’s 100th career win - he will be the seventh-youngest goalie in NHL history to reach the mark - will have to wait for another time.
On the other hand, veteran Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who has already been told he will faced reduced playing time this season, can now boast that he is the winningest goaltender in Flames history, the win carried him past two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Vernon’s 262 victories in a Calgary uniform.
The Finn repelled 35 Montreal shots - including a stunning toe save on Andrei Kostitsyn - to record his first win of the season.
Afterward, the uber-chill Kiprusoff was visibly moved by setting a new franchise record.
“It is huge, I’ve been here a long time and played a lot of games,” he said. “Also, we really needed this game.”
Teammate Niklas Hagman joked that Kiprusoff now owes the team a free dinner, a proposition to which the soft-spoken goaltender said “I’m happy to do that. But don’t write it.”
The Flames were full value for the win, but they also benefited greatly from the Canadiens’ defensive sloppiness and ill-discipline.
P.K. Subban showed the best and worst of his game this night, causing numerous turnovers and straying out of position, and veteran Hal Gill displayed little of his customary steadiness, closing the night at minus-2.
Captain Brian Gionta drew a pair of costly penalties in the first period.
“We started the way we wanted to, but then we ran into some early trouble and lost the momentum,” said a glum Gionta.
Subban’s night was summed up on a third-period play where he tried to elude Iginla behind his own net, and spun spectacularly to the ice when the Calgary captain tugged at him - referee Marc Joannette, standing a few feet away, was unmoved.
Seconds later, Subban made an ill-advised pinch on the power-play, leading to a short-handed two-on-one that narrowly missed.
The Habs’ frailty in their own end will do little to quiet the worried murmurs among their fans, although the problems didn’t come from the sources one would expect, rookie blueliners Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz had strong games.
“We need to be much stronger as a team to get out of these situations,” said Gill, who can be forgiven if we has distracted by the birth of his third child on Wednesday.
Though it’s still early in the season and the Habs are some distance short of icing their best lineup because of a raft of injuries - it was revealed Thursday that forward Ryan White has undergone surgery to repair a lingering sports hernia - Gill said it’s important to assimilate the lessons from the defeat quickly.
The main one: don’t try to do too much.
“It creeps in, everyone’s looking at themselves and saying ‘I need to do something’ . . . but what we really need to do is support each other better. If a guy’s on his own along the boards, you have to be quick to go and help,” he said. “It’s little things, not big things, but we need to fix them.”
Montreal scored the opening goal when Calgary’s Cory Sarich shattered his stick on a point shot, gifting a two-on-one to Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostistyn, the former’s wrist shot caroming off the end boards for the latter to scoop home.
But then the visitors scored successive power-play goals in a little over four minutes - the first from Rene Bourque, the second from Niklas Hagman. They were the first power-play goals Montreal has allowed this season.
David Moss made it 3-1 after a bad bounce allowed Alex Tanguay to sent him in alone on Price.
Then Montreal winger Erik Cole had a laborious shift which saw him unable to clear the puck from his zone three successive times - at the fourth time of asking he lugged it as far as the red line, but his clear-in was swatted down and quickly turned over.
By the Cole’s line and defenceman Hal Gill had been on the ice for over a minute, and Calgary duly made them pay, Bourque golfing a rebound through Price for his second of the night.
That was the cue for Tom Petty to sing “there ain’t no easy way back” on the public address system. At least the Bell Centre d.j. has a sense of humour.
The Habs would have a couple of fantastic chances to get back into the game, but they were denied by Kiprusoff’s post and a woeful power-play that shot blanks on four occasions.Report Typo/Error