Flames’ desire to tighten up defensively gets that much harder without Tanev

CALGARY – One measly win.

That, and three loser points, are all the Calgary Flames have to show for the eight games in which Chris Tanev hasn’t dressed this season.

The fact is, no one in the locker room, coaches’ office or around town, needs a stat like that to demonstrate Tanev’s importance to the team.

Just think back to how vulnerable defensively the Flames were in last year’s division final against Edmonton when Tanev missed the first three games before gutting out the final two with a torn labrum and separated shoulder that popped out almost as many times as Connor McDavid scored.

He’s not flashy, he’s not a point producer and he’s not a Dion Phaneuf reincarnate when it comes to body blasts.

He’s just the best damn defencemen the Flames have.

Had.

The news Calgary hockey fans were bracing for came Wednesday, less than 48 hours after the 33-year-old warrior gingerly departed Monday’s Johnny Hockey game.

“Tanny will miss these two games, and if everything goes well, we’ll get him back after the break,” said Darryl Sutter, whose club will have nine days off following Friday’s game in Seattle.   

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“If there’s a blessing in a having a long break, that’s it.”

Sutter delivered another blessing after that.

“Thankfully, the major (shoulder) surgery he had last summer – it wasn’t that,” added Sutter,  who most certainly has considered Tanev as a candidate to fill the club’s vacant captaincy.

So what does the team miss when he’s not on the ice?

“Two things – he’s so good at his structure, in terms of the x’s and o’s of his game,” said Sutter.

“That’s part of his preparation – he’s so detailed.

“The other is his one-on-one play.”

It’s unrivalled on a blue line full of various talents – none of whom have as complete a package as Tanev.

Tanev is a calming presence on the bench and a stabilizing and galvanizing force on the ice, who has helped the Flames go 22-12-6 in the 40 games that he has appeared in this season.

“It’s not just the blue line, it’s your locker room,” said Sutter of what he brings.

“Every coach has a handful of guys that you know you don’t have to react (to situations) because those guys will take care of it.”

And so, the shuffling begins, ahead of back-to-backs against Chicago and Seattle.

“Changes dramatically, when you look at it,” said Sutter of the re-jigged pairings he hopes will only play out for two outings.

“Nobody replaces Chris Tanev. 

“Connor (Mackey) comes in and (Michael) Stone(y) plays more minutes, and Z (Nikita Zadorov) goes up a notch (to play alongside) MacKenzie (Weegar), who goes back to the right side.

“It really affects a lot. 

“The only pair it doesn’t affect is Noah (Hanifin) and Ras(mus Andersson).”
“They’re all going to have to step up their game.”

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Zadorov has been a revelation of sorts for the Flames this year with Sutter calling him their best blue liner at times, and the player confirming his confidence has never been higher.

He’s clearly capable of jumping into a top-four role with Weegar.

“More ice time I guess – more responsibility,” said the hulking Russian of his new gig.

“Spoke to Darryl today, and the defence core, and he told us when we lose guys like Tanny we have to bring something extra.

“It’s defending and good positioning in the d-zone, so every guy in the d-zone needs to be 5 per cent better for us to be successful.”

This team spent the first half of the season trying desperately to tighten up defensively – something the coach has plainly said is the key to second-half success.

That job will be much harder if Tanev isn’t back in time for their re-boot Feb. 6 in New York.

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