Sports

Road trip stokes flickering Flames who look for a kickstart at home

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames are showing signs of life.

A 3-2-1 road trip — six games in nine days — without star forward Johnny Gaudreau in the lineup has cultivated resilience, according to head coach Glen Gulutzan. 

The Flames returned from their longest road trip this season with Chad Johnson having supplanted Brian Elliott as starting goaltender.

Defenceman Dougie Hamilton's six assists in those six games quieted trade rumours about him. Flames general manager Brad Treliving dismissed those rumours as "completely false" on Wednesday.

Calgary's special teams have been the worst in the NHL, but their penalty kill perked up in the six away games against Eastern Conference opponents with an 84 per cent success rate.

Now 7-6-2 on the road, the Flames need to bring improvements in their game to Scotiabank Saddledome. They won for just the fourth time at home this season in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Calgary (11-13-2) is at home to Minnesota on Friday and Anaheim on Sunday.

"I think the issue at home was early on we were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to play a certain way," Gulutzan said Wednesday.

"A lot of expectations, a lot of squeezing, a lot of getting out of our comfort zone. When we got on the road, we played a lot simpler game. As you put more and more of those simple games together, it's going to start to come at home.

"We're ready to establish ourselves here."

Gaudreau, who broke his finger in a Nov. 15 game and underwent surgery the following day, participated in Wednesday's pre-game skate, albeit in a yellow non-contact jersey.

He did not accompany his teammates on the road, but remained in Calgary. No firm date was given for his return from what was projected to be four to six weeks of recovery.

"It's not as much fun skating by yourself. It's a lot harder too," the 23-year-old left-winger said.

"It's great getting passes from the guys and going through some drills with them. I want to be out there as quick as possible obviously."

Johnson started four of the six road games for a 3-1 record, a 2.01 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and one shutout.

With Elliott losing his last seven starts in a row, the net is Johnson's as long as he keeps winning. He stopped 39 shots Wednesday for his third shutout in eight starts.

"If we've got guys who are going, we're going to play them," Gulutzan said.

Johnson signed a one-year contract with the Flames when free agency opened July 1.

"The more you play, the more comfortable you feel and the more confident you're going to be," the 30-year-old Calgarian said.

"Your routine is more consistent . . . your preparation is a lot better. I've done the other role of not playing as often. It's more of a challenge. The more games the better for me. I like to play a lot."

With top centre Sean Monahan scoring just twice in November, the Flames got goal support from 10 different forwards in the eight games following Gaudreau's injury.

"When you start out of the gate like we did, you're trying to get some stability in your game," Treliving said. "There's some real encouraging signs."