The Calgary Flames have been and will be reminded many times not to take lightly the Arizona Coyotes at home on Monday evening.
It’s not just the fact the Coyotes are in 29th place overall, even after a 5-2-1 surge. The forewarning has more to do with the Flames coming off the new five-day break.
In this first season with the mandated layoff for each team — the NHL and the players’ union agreed to the scheduling arrangement — cleaning out the cobwebs after the break has not been easy for some clubs.
The Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils were the 10th and 11th teams to experience how difficult it can be for teams to jump back in. The Oilers exhibited no emotion in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and the Devils were easily handled 4-1 by the visiting San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
All Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan has to do is post the results in the Flames dressing room to prove his point: Teams returning from their time off have lost eight of 11, and some have looked lifeless in their return outings.
Here’s a look at how those 11 teams have fared:
OTL — N.Y. Islanders (Jan. 1-5) — Lost 2-1 in overtime on the road to Colorado and three of four after the break to prompt a coaching change to Doug Weight.
W — Pittsburgh (Jan. 1-7) — Beat Tampa Bay 6-2 at home, but then lost three in a row. The Penguins have gone 9-5-2 since their break.
L — Ottawa (Jan. 2-6) — Blanked 1-0 by Washington at home. The Senators have a 9-5-2 record since their time off.
L — Colorado (Jan. 7-11) — Lost 4-1 to Anaheim at home to start a nine-game losing streak. The Avalanche have gone 2-11-1 since the break.
W — Arizona (Jan. 8-12) — Beat Winnipeg at home 4-3 and then lost four in a row. The Coyotes have gone 6-6-1.
L — N.Y. Rangers (Jan. 8-12) — They were beaten 4-2 at home by Toronto and lost the next two. The Rangers, however, have rebounded to win eight of their last 10.
W — Toronto (Jan. 8-12) — The Maple Leafs went into Madison Square Garden and beat New York 4-2 and have a 7-5-3 record since the break.
L — Philadelphia (Jan. 16-20) — Lost 4-1 at home to New Jersey. The Flyers have gone 5-4-1 since their break.
L — Florida (Feb. 4-8) — The Panthers were defeated 6-3 by Los Angeles, but rebounded for a 7-4 win in Nashville two nights later.
L — Edmonton (Feb. 6-10) — The Oilers had struggled before the break, having lost three of four, and then were beaten by the Blackhawks upon their return.
L — New Jersey (Feb. 7-11) — As mentioned, the Devils were soundly defeated by the Sharks on Sunday.
It’s not easy for players to check back in mentally after a few days off in sunny climes, to think about checking assignments and other parts of a game plan. There is not only the physical rink rust to shake off, but emotions have to be returned to heightened levels.
You would think the sight of the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cup championships in the last seven seasons, would have had the Oilers champing at the bit. But that was far from the case for the Oilers, an offensively challenged club these days with just four goals in their past five games.
It didn’t help matters that their workhorse goalie Cam Talbot had a delayed flight on Friday and missed practice. Talbot thrives on playing time. He is arguably the Oilers’ MVP this season and leads the league in appearances, minutes played, shots faced and saves made.
He apologized to his teammates on Saturday morning, but the deed was done and he was pulled from the Chicago game after allowing four goals on 20 shots.
Talbot’s small soap opera didn’t help what has become a precarious position around the league — breaks may be good for the soul, but not the win column, even if it’s just a short-term pitfall.