It used to be that National Hockey League teams facing back-to-back games in Alberta could expect a slow-tempo contest in Calgary along with the usual whirlwind in Edmonton. Now, however, it's a case of double jeopardy.
The Flames rank first in the NHL in scoring, with 49 goals in eight games, of which they have won six. They have outshot their eight opponents by an average of 41-30.
Thursday night, as they defeated the Washington Capitals, 5-3, the Flames played without injured regulars Lanny McDonald, Doug Risebrough, Mike Eaves, Dave Hindmarch and Steve Bozek. That quintet, which accounted for 86 goals a year ago, has totaled zero in this campaign. They have hardly been missed.
Taking up the slack are players Coach Bob Johnson calls his "kids" of a year ago. Carey Wilson, 22, a Dartmouth product who is one of eight collegians on the team, scored the winner against Washington. He has collected at least one point in every game, totaling four goals and 12 assists. Last year, in 15 games following his Canadian Olympic tour, he had two goals and five assists.
Wilson's linemates, Colin Patterson and Richard Kromm, have joined in the point parade. Patterson, 24, a Clarkson College product, has three goals and nine assists. Kromm, 20, son of former Detroit Coach Bobby Kromm, has five goals. They combined for 50 points last season.
Steve Tambellini, acquired from New Jersey when the Flames deep-sixed veterans Mel Bridgman and Phil Russell, already has seven goals. All last season, he had 15.
Defenseman Paul Reinhart, who missed most of last season with a back injury, is catching up on his ice time, doubling as a center on the Flames' potent power play, best in the NHL with 13 goals in 38 advantages.
Four of Reinhart's six goals have come in extra-man situations.
Leading the Flames in scoring is Kent Nilsson, the sometimes moody Swede who was most valuable player as his country reached the Canada Cup final. Nilsson, who broke his leg in March and missed the playoffs, has recorded 17 points to rank fourth in NHL scoring. A center, he is a point man on the power play.
"I hope the scoring continues, but I've got to be realistic," Johnson said. "The five-game road trip coming up (including a Wednesday contest in Washington) will be a test for our kids. We had a great training camp, we came out of the chute fast and we've played well all the games. It's been amazing really, because some of our key players are not playing. But all the young guys have played well.
"The Swedes have gotten a lot of ice time, especially with Eaves and McDonald out. They do a lot on the special teams, so they've been out there a lot. That will be cut down a bit as guys return."
Although Johnson is obviously pleased with the Flames' fast start and tries to maintain a positive outlook no matter the situation, he admits to a bit of doubt about his club's offensive power.
"It's fun to score goals but hard work to prevent them," Johnson said. "We've got the best offensive record, but I'd rather have the best defensive record."
That is unlikely, considering the style of play the Flames use. It is not unusual for them to send in all three forwards to forecheck, with Reinhart often making a fourth.
"They play wide open, a lot like the Oilers," said Warren Strelow, the Washington assistant who scouted them before the Capitals arrived. "There's not a lot of respect for defense.
"They're very good at the transition game, though. When the puck turns over, they can make some quick moves."
Reinhart, for all his offensive leanings, is not the top scorer among the Flames' defensemen. That honor belongs to Allan MacInnis, onetime junior teammate of Scott Stevens at Kitchener, with 13 points.
"They can move the puck around and they have great offensive skills," said Washington's Rod Langway. "They don't stand in front of the net, but they're always darting through the crease or slot, and they get a lot of shots. Calgary's got a hell of a team and they're doing a good job. It comes down to discipline and the coaching staff, and they've got a good one."
A year ago, Calgary took Edmonton to seven games in the playoffs and held a lead well into the second period. The way the Flames are coming on, it could be another interesting series between the only Smythe Division teams with much of a future.
For the rest of the NHL, coming out here is a guarantee of two hard nights' work. The Capitals, after two rousing efforts, escaped with one point. Quebec and Boston were less fortunate. The Nordiques fell twice, 7-2 here and 9-2 in Edmonton. The Bruins were beaten 8-2 here, 7-2 in Edmonton.
Asked if the double trouble that frequently faces eastern opponents here was a benefit, Johnson said, "I honestly don't know. It may work the other way. I think some teams concentrate on us, figuring they can't beat Edmonton anyway."
It will take greater concentration this year.
Washington center Bengt Gustafsson, after injuring his right hamstring for the third time, probably will need a lengthy rest.