Flames keep fire in belly as Panthers visit
The statistical evidence surrounding the Calgary Flames is loaded with superlatives.
Heading into their home clash with the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the Flames (28-13-4) sit atop the Western Conference and are second overall in the NHL.
The 60 points they've collected in 45 games qualifies for the second-fastest start in franchise history, trailing only the Stanley Cup-winning squad of 1988-89.
They're the only team in the league that can boast four 20-goal scorers and four 50-point players.
So, coming off their 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, you'd think their day between games would be a golden chance to kick back, relax and rest on some laurels.
Calgary's practice on Thursday was extremely intense as head coach Bill Peters let it be known he wasn't impressed with his club's three-game winning streak and 6-1-1 run.
"We weren't perfect on the road (before returning home to face Colorado) by any stretch of the imagination," Peters said. "I thought we struggled with the puck a little (Wednesday) night. There are things we've gotten away from."
Then again, that win over the Avalanche came despite being outshot by a 35-16 margin. Had it not been for the goaltending of David Rittich, the Flames would have been licking their wounds from a defeat.
"Winning's fun and being in a position to get a playoff spot is a good feeling, but in the back of your head sometimes you come out of games and know you can be better," said forward Sean Monahan.
"We're in a good spot here and you've got to take advantage. You can't let it slip away. We're in an important time here for our group and an important time to get better."
The Panthers (17-17-8) arrive in Calgary on the heels of a 4-3 shootout loss Thursday night in Edmonton, a particularly disappointing setback as they saw a 3-2 lead evaporate with eight seconds remaining in regulation.
Florida, which missed the playoffs last season by a single point, is running out of time to recover from a tough start, sitting nine points out of a playoff spot.
"We know where we're at as a team," said head coach Bob Boughner.
"We talked a lot (Wednesday) about what we need to do in the second half to try and make the playoffs. It's got to start on road trips like this. You've got to put some points in the bank and everybody's got to contribute."
The Panthers -- on an 0-2-2 skid -- have surrendered three or more goals in seven of eight games, so defensive play and goaltending are understandably being questioned.
"(It's) managing your game," Boughner said.
"Both teams are going to make mistakes. You saw that the other night in Pittsburgh. I think they made as many mistakes as we did, but it's the big mistakes that kill you. Not trying to let anybody behind you, just managing the game and being ready to compete when the puck drops."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 11, 2019