Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Calgary Flames are in a distressing situation.
As the Flames prepare to host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, becoming a playoff-bound team is a Herculean task, sitting eight points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens in the North Division.
Coming off a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, the Flames have dropped four straight and eight of nine games, and trying new combinations in the hopes of turning their fortunes.
The most notable is splitting Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Gaudreau – who has mustered only three points in his last 10 games – has been practising on a line with Elias Lindholm and the struggling Matthew Tkachuk.
Monahan, who has scored at least 20 goals in all of his previous seven seasons and surpassed the 30-goal mark in three of them, has only seven goals, and this week practised on a line with Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane.
“He’s a really great rush player and I think that I can get him the puck a lot and we can work really well together,” Tkachuk said of Gaudreau. “Lindy is going to fit in awesome as well ... it’s going to be fun.”
The Flames haven’t had much fun lately, and with the trade deadline approaching Monday, major changes may be coming, such as Gaudreau, Monahan and even captain Mark Giordano being jettisoned in a full-scale rebuild.
“We still have 16 games left and we still have a chance to get in,” Giordano said when asked whether he’s thought of moving on. “I’ve been here my whole career and been through some ups and downs. I haven’t thought about it. I’m looking forward to (Saturday’s) game and we have five more against Montreal, so in our minds there’s still a chance.”
The Oilers are on the other end of the spectrum, having won two in a row and posting a 7-1-2 mark in their last 10 outings. Edmonton, which has won five of the seven meetings with Calgary this season, is coming off a 3-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday that capped a remarkable nine-game sweep of the last-place Senators.
Edmonton coach David Tippett is working to keep his charges from ignoring the standings and just concentrating on their performance.
“We’ve talked at length with our group about playing well and that the standings will take care of themselves,” Tippett said, fully aware that his team is five points behind the NHL-best 57 of Carolina and Toronto. “We know whoever you play in the playoffs is going to be a good team, a real good team.
“You look at the standings every day like I do and it’s kind of flip-flopped all over the place. Toronto has pushed ahead a little bit. The rest of it is making sure you get your team playing at a level so no matter who you play, if you make the playoffs, you can be competitive.”
The Oilers will be without forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a second consecutive game due to an upper-body injury but are finding plenty of production of late from outside their dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
For example, goalie Mike Smith has been outstanding since missing the first four weeks of the season due to injury, while goals in their last game came from Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi and Devin Shore.
“Those guys do special things against every team, it seems like,” Shore said. “We’ve said it all before, everyone’s got a role and they’re really good at theirs, so it’s nice when we can do our role and help them out on the scoresheet.”