On Sunday night, the Calgary Flames lost, 8-5, to a bitter rival, the Winnipeg Jets. On Friday night, the Flames visit the hated Edmonton Oilers.
Wedged between these Smythe Division contests, the Washington Capitals come calling on the Flames Wednesday night. It is no easy motivational matter for Calgary Coach Bob Johnson.
"We don't quite have the intensity for nondivisional games that we have when we play Winnipeg and Edmonton," Johnson said. "You can understand why . . .
"When you play a team so many times (eight against each Smythe opponent), you have a good rivalry. When you play a team you haven't seen for four months like Boston (a 6-3 Calgary loss Saturday), which has a new coach and a lot of new players, it's much more difficult from an emotional standpoint. But they're all worth two points and we certainly need all the points we can get to challenge Edmonton and Winnipeg."
Besides the emotional angle, there is a matter of style. Winnipeg and Edmonton emphasize skating and offense; they, along with Calgary, were the highest-scoring teams in the NHL last season. Washington ranked second in defense.
"Edmonton is so fast and wide open, they intimidate you with speed," Johnson said. "They play an unbelievably fast game . . . And Winnipeg plays a fast-breaking game with (Dale) Hawerchuk. But you have to play every kind of style in this league . . .
"We're looking for consistency. We can't get up so high for Winnipeg, get down for the next game and build another high for Edmonton. We have to be ready every night."
Part of Johnson's problem is the effect of injuries that have knocked Paul Reinhart, Eddy Beers and Hakan Loob out of the Flames' lineup.
"We've had a lot of costly mistakes by our young players," Johnson said. "We need some veterans to nurture the kids. But even though we have a lot of young players out there, they are learning and improving every game. You'll see a different Calgary Flames club in March."
The Flames reflect Johnson's collegiate background at Wisconsin. Of his 20 players in uniform at Winnipeg, nine attended U.S. colleges and none is older than 25.
Calgary traded goaltender Don Edwards to Toronto and assured Reggie Lemelin he is No. 1. But Lemelin yielded 14 goals in the last two games and each time was replaced in the third period by rookie Marc D'Amour.
"A goalie is like a starting quarterback, sometimes when a game is lost you give his understudy some experience," Johnson said. "But he's still our starter and he'll be in the nets Wednesday against Washington."
In goal for the Capitals will be Pat Riggin, who has a 5-1 record against the Flames since Calgary dealt him and now retired winger Ken Houston to Washington in June 1982 for an assortment of draft choices.
The Capitals have been more successful than the Flames in interdivisional games, a result that can be attributed in large part to the intense preparation by Coach Bryan Murray.
Clare Rothermel, Washington's western scout, was in Winnipeg Sunday to watch Calgary for the fourth time and brought Murray detailed reports.
"The big thing I've noticed," Murray said, "is if we're playing a good, quality team and we've done a fair amount of scouting and provided the players with information, they will respond to that.
"The last few years we've had more problems getting up for lesser games against teams like Pittsburgh and New Jersey than we have for teams like Calgary and Winnipeg. We may play down to the level of some teams, but we're usually up for the good ones."