Flames finding success without captain following Giordano departure

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The Calgary Flames aren’t having any trouble navigating the road without a captain.

After going 0-1-1 in their first two games, the Flames have won the first four games of a five-game road trip that concludes against at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, ATTSN-PT, SNW, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

“I think we’re learning how to play the right way,” coach Darryl Sutter said after a 5-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. “I think it’s a big adjustment for our group. Players that have been here for a while, it’s a big adjustment process learning how to play the right way and do it consistently.”

The Flames have also been adjusting to playing without longtime captain Mark Giordano after the defenseman was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Rather than rush to name someone else captain, the Flames wanted the players to work collectively to replace Giordano’s leadership and are going with four alternate captains: forwards Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Sean Monahan and defenseman Christopher Tanev

Those four, along with respected veterans who don’t wear letters, such as forwards Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane and Milan Lucic and goalie Jacob Markstrom, have pulled together in a group effort to fill the void created by Giordano’s departure.

“It just feels natural. We’re just kind of not thinking about that,” Tkachuk said. “We’re just being whoever is in the leadership group. There’s a bunch of us and we’re kind of providing what we can provide and doing it all by committee. So it’s been good.”

The Flames are among five NHL teams without a captain, along with the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators. Calgary is doing it partly out of respect to Giordano, who general manager Brad Treliving said was “the moral compass of this team for a long time.”

Giordano played 15 seasons for the Flames, including the last eight as their captain. He won the won the Norris Trophy voted as the best defenseman in the League in 2018-19 and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in 2019-20.

He was also a prominent figure representing the Flames in the city, winning the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2015-16, which was given to the player who best demonstrated commitment, perseverance and teamwork to enrich the lives of people in his community before it was discontinued in 2017. These are among the reasons the Kraken named Giordano their first captain.

“As you get playing, you sort of transition from it, but when ‘G’ first got picked up by Seattle, it’s tough,” Tanev said. “It doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something that takes time and there’s a lot of good older veteran guys in here that all of us need to step up and have been stepping up. 

“But when someone is here for so long and does what G has done for the team and city and everything that goes with that, I think it’s only appropriate that there’s no captain.”

With numerous new players this season, including forwards Blake Coleman, Trevor Lewis and Tyler Pitlick, defenseman Nikita Zadorov and backup goalie Dan Vladar, management and coaches also thought not having a captain would encourage more players to get involved.

“I think the key is it doesn’t get handed to one person,” associate coach Kirk Muller said. “I think the more you see in the game today is what you really want to do is build a cohesiveness with your group in the room and all that. We’ve got a lot of new guys this year and leaving it that way, it builds numbers, everyone preaching together and playing for each other. I think that’s the perfect fit for us right now, don’t put it on one person, just let them jell together and build together.”

Having an early-season road trip has helped that process. Unlike last season, when players couldn’t spend much time together away from the rink because of COVID-19 protocols, they can gather for team meals or other events and interact socially.

“It’s good,” said Lindholm, who is tied with Mangiapane and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with seven goals. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of new guys and it’s good to get to know each other and hang out, get some team dinners and stuff like that, a little team bonding. It’s always good to get to know each other and be on the road kind of early. So it’s so far, so good.”

Winning every game on the trip so far, by a combined score of 17-7, hasn’t hurt either.

An obvious choice to become captain could emerge at some point, but the players won’t be bothered if the play the entire season without one.

“We have a ton of leaders on our team that don’t wear letters, a lot of guys who have been here for a while. They know who they are,” said Gaudreau, who leads the NHL with eight assists. “So just lead by example and go from there.”

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