January 8, 2010
Tired Flames hit breaking point
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI AGENCY
They call it a recovery day.
Bodies weary after seven games in 11 nights, the Calgary Flames enjoyed their well-deserved break from the grind yesterday.
But their minds were just as in need of the respite.
Losing 4-1 to the host Minnesota Wild in St. Paul Wednesday proved that.
Their brains seemed to shut down after they grabbed a lead 90 seconds in, and the Wild took advantage.
"We just weren't making those crisp plays that we usually do, and it showed," Flames defenceman Mark Giordano said after the tough-to-swallow loss.
"We had a lot of turnovers, and they countered and got a lot of scoring chances."
At least three cross-ice passes were intercepted for rushes the other way. Plenty more mistakes were made in the neutral zone, where the Wild dominated the unfocused Flames.
Turnovers aren't made because of a lack of physical energy, but because of a drop in attention.
No one expected the Flames to run the table the rest of the season, or even win their sixth consecutive game during such a tough stretch of their schedule.
But to be a top team down the stretch after the Olympic break, and more importantly, to get through the playoffs with more wins than losses this spring, the Flames will have to find a way to play inspired hockey even when the bodies aren't able to perform at their peak.
"No, I don't think it's tough (to manufacture energy)," head coach Brent Sutter said after the loss. "But definitely tonight our energy was low."
All teams are dealing with the Olympic crunch.
The Wild had a couple of days off before back-to-backs against the Blackhawks in Chicago and then the Flames, but were playing their sixth game in 10 nights Wednesday.
The Flames were more ragged having played seven in 11, but with only their goalie appearing to have an ounce of energy, they needed either their stars or scrappers to dig deep and at least put up a fight.
Not one of them did.
Jarome Iginla had three shots, but was a minus-1 and never really threatened to score.
Rene Bourque directed just one puck on net, didn't throw a single hit, and was virtually invisible -- a rarity for the team's second-leading scorer this year.
Veteran pivot Daymond Langkow has been one of the hottest forwards of late, but took no shots, threw no hits and went six-for-11 in the faceoff circle.
One of the team's top-line players refused to talk to the media afterward. The mental break had already begun.
"We're not happy with our effort," Giordano said. "But we've got a quick turnaround and a game Friday, so we have to get ready for that."
Things aren't going to be any easier for the Flames with tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets followed by a visit to Vancouver for a matchup with the Northwest Division rival Canucks the next night.
They'll have gaps of two days between games just three times before the break in February, and only twice more after it, with a deadly finish to their regular-season in April featuring away dates against the Colorado Avalanche, Blackhawks and Canucks and home games against the San Jose Sharks and Wild.
Whatever team rises to the top of the Northwest Division at that point will have earned the title of toughest.
Mentally, not physically.