Michael Cammalleri’s debut for Calgary was one of those good news-bad news kind of nights. Good news: He scored a goal, on the power play, in the second period of Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, which is something that doesn’t happen much for Calgary at the Scotiabank Saddledome where the PP was grinding along at an ugly 11 per cent. The bad news: Cammalleri was just okay defensively, and at times, looked as if it might take a few days to absorb coach Brent Sutter’s system.
But mostly, Cammalleri was happy to get last week behind him - a week in which comments he made to a couple of reporters in Montreal about the Canadiens’ struggles turned him into a cause celebre and may or may not have expedited his get-him-on-the-next-rail-out-of-town exit.
Cammalleri played in Calgary for a full season (2008-09) and while he was usually good at truth telling, he rarely used words as charged as “losers” which is what he reportedly said and is different than talking about “losing.” To label someone a loser is strong stuff. To say that the team had a losing mentality just qualifies as hockey speak, nothing to get worked up about.
In an interview in which he was asked to clarify what was actually said, Cammalleri replied that to the best of his recollection, he talked about “losing” but did not utter the word “losers.”
“I’m not blaming anybody,” began Cammalleri. “It really doesn’t matter now. I’ve definitely moved on from it. But all I can say about it, and what I don’t like about it, is how things came out in the media.
“You guys have interviewed me for a long time. I don’t think I ever said anything, no matter how mad I was, along those lines (calling the Habs ‘losers’). It was a practice day, it wasn’t a game day. I wasn’t that emotional.
“I thought I was making more of a theoretical hockey point - about how a team feels when they’re tight and losing and you go into a game with that mentality and it’s hard to break. A winning team goes into it with a different mentality. I thought I was stating the obvious - we were sitting in 12th place; we had a losing record. So I didn’t think I was breaking any ground by making these comments.
“It was more an assessment of the psyche of a team. And I know I said ‘we’ so I was including myself in there.”
That sounds like pretty common hockey verbiage; that winning teams play with a confidence that doesn’t get shaken too easily.
“If they make a mistake, they’re not worried about it,” continued Cammalleri, “because they make a lot of good plays that end up winning them the game. When you’re losing, you feel like if you make one mistake, you’re going to lose the hockey game. That’s a hard thing to break out of.”
And losing teams, they always seem to be half a step behind because of tentativeness - too slow in on the fore check to make a difference; and then caught in some no man’s land on the back check. The difference between the NHL and other levels of hockey is that teams are usually adept at exploiting the small defensive openings that develop in a game.
“Like I said, I didn’t think this was ground-breaking stuff. It just happened.”
However it happened, Cammalleri is now a member of the Flames who head out on the road to San Jose, Los Angeles and Edmonton before returning for one final pre all-star break home game again the Sharks next Tuesday. Calgary’s loss to L.A. Saturday night snapped an eight-game home win streak.
The key to the playoff push that was behind the Cammalleri acquisition in the first place will be for the Flames to win more regularly on the road, where they are just 8-14-3 this season, the primary reason that they entered action Monday night tied with the Phoenix Coyotes for 11th place in the Western Conference, four points back of the eighth-place Minnesota Wild.
It’s just past the midpoint of the NHL season - the Boston Bruins were the last team to get to Game 41 on Saturday, but it looks as if five teams look safe in the Western Conference playoff race (Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose, St. Louis and Detroit) and three teams have fallen so far off the pace that they are effectively done (Edmonton, Anaheim, Columbus).
It leaves seven teams competing for three spots and on paper, none except maybe L.A. is appreciably better than the Flames. Nowadays, the teams that make playoffs seem to be able to rattle off one long winning streak somewhere along the line to build a cushion in the standings.
With 36 games to go, that is Mission No. 1 in Calgary, and if Cammalleri - with one goal in one game - can help that along, then, last week’s Montreal tempest may turn out to be a good thing for the Cowtowners.