MONTREAL - It's been a tough week for coach Brent Sutter with his Calgary Flames losing their first two games of the regular season and the junior team he owns, the Red Deer Rebels, losing a bid to play host to the 2013 Mastercard Memorial Cup to Saskatoon.
The third-year coach hopes that heading east for games against high-profile opponents in Montreal on Thursday night and Toronto on Saturday will light a spark under a team that was outscored 15-5 in season-opening losses to Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
"We haven't been happy with the way we played," he said before Thursday's game against Montreal. "It's been addressed.
"The players understand it. Let's move on. This isn't a do all, end all. We haven't played well enough. We need to have our game at the level we need to succeed. That's as much my responsibility as anyone. I understand that, but we need a bigger compete level out of everybody."
The pressure is on the Flames to reach the playoffs after missing two years in a row despite putting up at least 90 points both seasons.
In Sutter's first year behind the bench, Calgary was 17-6-3 on Nov. 30 but was done in by a 1-8-3 stretch in January and finished 40-32-10 for 90 points—tied with St. Louis for ninth in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
Last season, a bad start put them so far back that a 20-4-4 spurt that started in January couldn't save them. The Flames ended up 41-29-12 for 94 points—three points behind Chicago for the final playoff spot.
Captain Jarome Iginla would like to avoid having to make another desperate second-half charge.
"We're not a young team, a lot of us are still together from last year," Iginla said. "We were able to get ourselves playing some good hockey for about 50 games.
"We can use that (this season) but we also know about putting ourselves in a hole and how hard it is to dig yourselves out of it. We're aware of it. We know we need to start playing better now. Even though it's two games in, it's not panic, but we'll have to raise our level of play as individuals and as a team."
In St. Louis on Monday, the Flames got the first goal eight minutes in, but went on to be outshot 35-17 in a 5-2 defeat. Calgary had only two shots on the Blues' Jaroslav Halak in the third period.
Workhorse goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, a 5-3 loser in the Flames' home opener last week, needs a win to pass Mike Vernon for the franchise record. Each has 262 wins.
The 34-year-old Iginla, a 15-year veteran, played with both.
"Some goaltenders don't like to be talked to and some don't even like to be looked at on game day, but they're pretty easy going," he said. "Vernie, (Grant) Fuhr was like that and Kipper's like that.
"But at the same time, they're very competitive once it's game time. Sometimes people think they're so relaxed they're not into it. No, they are very into it. They all had amazing careers."
Sutter missed practice Wednesday as the Western Hockey League board of governors voted on the host team for the 2013 Memorial Cup. He came away disappointed and a little bitter.
The governors picked Saskatoon, which plays in the 15,000-seat Credit Union Centre, over Red Deer and Kelowna, B.C., whose rinks hold 5,735 and 6,007 respectively. The Saskatoon bid was also aided by their successful staging of the 2010 world junior championship.
Sutter felt the governors chose Saskatoon simply because it has a bigger arena in a bigger market and will potentially generate more cash than the other bids, leaving "mid-size market" teams like his no chance.
"It was a pretty disappointing day for our organization and the fans and the people that worked so hard at it for the last eight months," said Sutter. "To present a bid that was second to none, and yet at the end of the day, it comes down to economics. We really feel that, if that's what it was, then we could have found that out right off the bat."
He said Red Deer is a mid-size only "because of the seating capacity in the building, not mid-size in terms of the commitment and support we get from the community and the surrounding area, because that's top notch."
"But you're having to compete against large market teams and it comes down to economics because of the size of your building, it's tough," he added. "That's what was disappointing about it all."
The 2012 Memorial Cup will be held at the 4,125-seat Centre Bionest in Shawinigan, Que.