Nikita Zadorov brought out the flamethrower when assessing the Calgary Flames’ performance so far this season.
“We’re trying to figure out our identity. … The main thing for us, we’re just not working as a unit yet,” the defenseman told reporters Tuesday, per TSN. “We have too many individuals playing by themselves. We’ve gotta figure out if we want to play as a team or if we want to play as our own guy.”
He added, “We’re only six games into the season, and we’re trying to figure out who wants to be here, who wants to play for who.”
The Flames are currently 2-3-1 on the campaign and just wrapped up a hapless five-game road trip that ended with a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
It certainly isn’t the start Calgary wanted. The Flames had a transformative offseason that saw them part ways with hard-nosed head coach Darryl Sutter after the team failed to make the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Last season was different. It was Darryl,” Zadorov said. “Now there’s no Darryl, so there’s no excuses. You know what I mean? You guys don’t like hard coaches? You don’t like soft coaches? You don’t like good coaches? Fair.
“It’s a new-day league. You come up here, you play hard, and you leave everything on the ice. I think that’s how simple it is.”
Zadorov added that adjusting to a different system and coaching staff led by new bench boss Ryan Huska is also contributing to the Flames’ struggles but believes his teammates have to “buy in all the way” to ease the learning curve.
Huska doesn’t think the Flames are suffering from an “individual mentality” or that his players are being selfish on the ice.
“You get into stretches where you want to help the team win or find a way to get a goal at this point in the game, so you try a little bit too much instead of making the smart, simple play,” he said.
Huska explained, “The issue that we talked about yesterday is how we manage the puck at times, and that’s something that we have to do a better job of cleaning up, and oftentimes that falls on the individual.”
The Flames have a handful of question marks on their roster. Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and Zadorov himself can all become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
The first domino has already fallen for Calgary, which signed Mikael Backlund to a two-year contract extension in September and named him captain. Lindholm and Hanifin, meanwhile, have both expressed a willingness to stay with the Flames.
Calgary has 76 games left to get back on track, with its first chance coming Tuesday against the New York Rangers.
“We’ve got lots of time. … Only one team (in our division) is rolling right now pretty much. Everybody’s in the same boat as us,” Zadorov said. “So I think we can definitely use some wins.”