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Duhatschek: Flames goalie Brian Elliott is always looking to the next game

In a perfect world, Brian Elliott's Calgary Flames' debut would have begun with far more of a storybook script. Maybe a low-scoring win over the archrival Edmonton Oilers, on the road, to spoil the opening of their new building. He might have stopped Connor McDavid on a dazzling penalty-shot attempt; made a few other game-changing saves; and otherwise help usher in a new defensively aware era in Calgary, in which reducing the league's 30th-best goals-against average was an absolute priority.

But it didn't go that way.

A leaky night defensively made for a wildly entertaining game and brought back memories of the Battle of Alberta's run-and-gun 1980s, but the net result was an error-filled 7-4 loss.

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Elliott is part of the influx of fresh faces added in the off-season by Flames' general manager Brad Treliving. Among the available goaltenders, Elliott's appeal was twofold to Calgary, one quantifiable, one anecdotal.

His stats in his five previous seasons in St. Louis were among the best in the NHL over that span. But his strongest virtue might be an ultra-competitive streak that is innate and has been part of his make-up since he was a boy, growing up in Newmarket, Ont.

"My mom used to call me a 'little so-and-so' because I wanted to win at everything," Elliott said. "She said, 'You couldn't bear to lose.' Sometimes, it is a character flaw – growing up, trying to be friendly with everyone.

"But I always had that competitiveness – whether it was in hockey, or if I was playing basketball by myself in the driveway, I had to hit three swishes in a row, or I can't go inside. Little things like that – you do to yourself – it's just always been within me. It's not something I'm going to get rid of any time soon."

That's just as well, since the Flames will need Elliott's competitive streak in advance of Friday night's home opener and a chance for redemption against the visiting Oilers. There was a distinct back-to-the-drawing-board vibe at practice Thursday, after the opening-night disaster.

In addition to the revamped goaltending tandem of Elliott and Chad Johnson, the Flames also added a new coach in Glen Gulutzan, two new forwards in Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg and a new defenceman in Nicklas Grossmann. Versteeg signed a day before the season opener after spending training camp with the Oilers on a tryout basis and will get a chance to play first-line minutes with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. But the trio didn't get in any meaningful practice until Thursday, so it was understandable perhaps why so many things looked out of sync against the Oilers.

But it is a long season and Elliott suggested it didn't make much sense to get hung up on one game, because they could clean up their mistakes without too much difficulty. After juggling his defence pairs for the opener, Gulutzan went back to a more established No. 1 pair, team captain Mark Giordano playing alongside T.J. Brodie, a pair that will be tasked with trying to stop the McDavid juggernaut.

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Giordano suggested last year's revolving cast of goaltenders were unfairly tagged as scapegoats when the Flames' season went off the rails.

"We know it was more than that – a sum-of-all-parts sort of thing," Giordano said. "We weren't good enough. We were giving up way too many chances, quality chances.

"In saying that, you bring in two guys and it's honestly been a pleasure to watch how they work in practice. It's unbelievable. You've always known [Elliott] is an underrated guy, who's put up good numbers, but he's right up there. He reads the play well. He moves the puck well. So it's been really refreshing.

"For all of us, team defence is going to be an area of concern, but what's team defence now? It's puck possession. If you have the puck, the other team can't score. That's what we have to focus on."

A decade into his career, where he mostly had time shares with other goalies, Elliott will now get a chance to establish himself as the team's clear-cut No. 1, an opportunity he's been waiting a long time for.

"But that's what's kept me sharp, I think," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are, there's always somebody ready to take your job. I've always liked to go under the radar. It's not long term. It's not what happened in the past. I always see it as, 'the next game is always another opportunity to win.' And that's all I'm looking at."

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More


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