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Flames focusing on process over results

Nazem Kadri Calgary Flames Nazem Kadri - The Canadian Press

The Calgary Flames are 10 points out of a playoff spot with 17 games left in the regular season and icing a significantly different lineup after the trade deadline. Facing those daunting odds, the team is focusing on process more than results.

The Flames have dealt No. 1 centre Elias Lindholm, top-pairing blueliners Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, and depth defenceman Nikita Zadorov this season. General manager Craig Conroy prioritized draft picks and prospects in the returns, meaning there have been few major reinforcements to help the team remain competitive in the playoff race.

The Flames are coming off a three-game stretch where they were outscored 18-5 and outshot 109-82 versus the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Colorado Avalanche

On Wednesday, a day after their 6-2 loss to the Avs, head coach Ryan Huska emphasized the importance of being process-oriented over results-oriented during the final stretch of the season. 

“Your results will never be there if your process isn’t there,” he said. “If you look to results, you’re in the wrong business right now.”

While the public message has been to continue fighting for a playoff spot, the team is slowly shifting to a mindset that’s more granular, short-term, and realistic.

“Winning’s the ultimate goal, right?” leading scorer Nazem Kadri said after Tuesday’s loss when asked about that playoff mentality, before pausing. “You can’t sit here and talk about playoffs in September or February or March…you’ve got to take it in segments, in small pieces, because making the playoffs is a daunting task, let alone winning in the playoffs. It’s a patient game at this point.”

Despite the depleted roster, captain Mikael Backlund emphasized that the group has to move forward with more hunger.

“Regardless of the result, better effort, better system, better structure, everything’s gotta be better,” he said. “We’ve got to play to our system, our structure, bring our best effort. It wasn’t there early in the game and…we’ve got to stop the bleeding now. We all know we can be better and as a group, we’ve got to turn this around.”

Defenceman Rasmus Andersson, pointless and minus-8 over the recent three-game stretch, echoed his captain. 

“Just not good enough,” he said. “Bad effort.”

The reality, however, is that the Flames will be living with these growing pains through the rest of the season. 

New defencemen Joel Hanley and Nikita Okhotiuk are adjusting to new living arrangements, on-ice systems, and their families making the move to Calgary. Huska is searching for the right roles and partners for his newcomers. His lineup is also depleted thanks to injuries to Jacob Markstrom, Andrew Mangiapane, and Andrei Kuzmenko.

“Yesterday after shifts, I would ask coaches [about the systems],” Okhotiuk said Wednesday. He played nearly nine minutes in his Flames debut. “I like to watch and learn with clips…yesterday when my teammates were playing, I was trying to look and what they were doing and trying to learn. I was using [the game] as an opportunity to be close and learn what they do.”

It will take time for the new Flames to get acclimated and by then, Calgary may be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. What’s important to the coach, however, is that they adhere to the fundamentals of their process. That, he feels, is more valuable than anything else and will have benefits long-term.

“We are gauged as coaches on wins and losses and that’s what it comes down to,” Huska said. “But if you focus your team on wins and losses, then you’re in for a long year or couple of years. It’s always about process and always will be.”

Calgary hosts Hanifin and the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.