CALGARY, Alberta — The Calgary Flames struggled to win with Johnny Gaudreau. Now they face a long stretch in which they must win without him.
The Flames play their second game without their injured star on Friday, hosting a Chicago Blackhawks squad that is infinitely better than the team they defeated in their first game without Gaudreau on Wednesday, the Arizona Coyotes.
“Every guy recognizes that we lost a really good player and now collectively we have to play a certain way to get ourselves in a position to get points in this league,” Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said. “It's certainly hurt us as a hockey club, but we look at it as something we can rally around and try to find a true identity here.”
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Gaudreau underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon after breaking a finger the night before when slashed by Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. He is expected to miss about six weeks, Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said.
The Flames (7-10-1) beat the Wild 1-0 on Tuesday on Gaudreau's goal and followed it up the next night by eking out a 2-1 overtime victory over Coyotes, who are last overall in the 30-team league.
Up next, however, is one of the league's elite squads, Chicago, which is third overall entering Friday's play. The Blackhawks (11-4-2) began a seven-game road trip with a 4-0 loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday, which ended their seven-game winning streak and marked the first time they failed to gain at least a point in 11.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is very conscious that the chasing teams aren't far behind.
“There's a real big pack in the middle; everybody seems to be just around the .500 mark,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “The way we've been playing, we're fortunate where we are in the standings. It's a tremendous pack where everybody's in the mix and there are no easy games.”
The Flames took Thursday off from both skating and answering questions about how they were going to overcome the loss of Gaudreau, who after struggling to start the season appeared to be rounding into form. He had three goals in his last two games.
“We're sort of working around a six-week timeframe (for his absence),” Treliving said. “Hopefully it's shorter. …
“We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have to come together. … Everyone has injuries. You deal with them.”
The Blackhawks began their 13-day road trip unhappy with their play despite not having lost in regulation since Oct. 21 prior to the Winnipeg setback. Expectations certainly are higher for a team chasing first place overall than they are for someone like the Flames, who are just trying to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
“It's not how you want to start (the trip) at all,” Quenneville told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We have tougher games as we keep going. They keep getting tougher and tougher and tougher. There's no easy games on the road anymore. We've had a favorable schedule here, and we know we have to play much better.”