SUN Hockey Pool

Deja-vu 'D' urged vs. Detroit

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Beating the Colorado Avalanche in back-to-back outings 48 hours apart is a solid feat.

For the Calgary Flames, it could mean a step in the right direction.

Still, you can understand those spying the Flames with skepticism.

A win tonight over the Detroit Red Wings, however, and it will be easier to believe this Flames team can truly belong among the NHL's elite.

"It was important for us to get a couple of wins, help build our confidence," left winger Rene Bourque said after yesterday's practice at the Saddledome. "We've been playing pretty well, haven't given up a lot of chances, but Detroit is a different team than Colorado.

"They have a lot of skill -- similar to San Jose, if not better -- and are the defending Stanley Cup champs. This is another big test for us."

Remember that last test the Flames took up against one of the NHL's elite?

It was only 10 days ago, facing a Sharks squad that's fighting the Red Wings for top spot in the Western Conference.

The Flames looked at it as a measuring stick and came up short by the full metre in a 6-1 drubbing.

Bourque and his teammates know full well the Wings -- with a 13-3-2 record -- are just as good as the Sharks.

"If not better," Bourque said. "Our effort has to be that much better. We have to bring our 'A' game, or it could be another San Jose score."

At least the Flames are in better form heading into this game than they were leading up to that Shark attack.

They're coming off wins over the Colorado Avalanche in which they allowed only one goal and surrendered a total of 41 shots. It was impressive, even though the Avs -- with only six goals in six games and a couple of shootout winners during that spell -- have serious scoring issues.

Not only have the Flames improved their defensive play, they've won a vast majority of the faceoffs, have dictated the play with their forecheck and have become more disciplined, allowing only three powerplays in two games.

They'll need to do more of the same, at an even higher level tonight, seeing as those are the elements the Wings have used for years in their winning formula.

"They know how to win," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan of the Wings. "They're the defending champions and will be until somebody displaces them. They've got a committed group that's come back, even though they had a short summer, with a sense of getting things done again. You can see that in their play."

The Wings are riding a four-game winning streak and a 6-0-1 run during which they've scored 27 goals.

Tonight's clash may be No. 21 in an 82-game season for the Flames, but it is a chance to see how they stack up without the burden of a crazy schedule to make things tougher.

"They're one of the top teams right now, so it's going to be a big test for our team," said Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. "We know now we can play strong defence, and we've been getting scoring chances, too.

"They play smart and shoot a lot with guys in front of me standing. We have to bring out our best game to get those two points."

If there's one complaint about the victories over the Avs, it's the powerplay. The Flames' man-advantage units scored only once in 15 chances over those two games, and that goal came in the final seconds of a 4-1 victory.

"Our entire game plan has been simplified, but with our powerplay, we've almost gone the other way," said Flames blueliner Adrian Aucoin.

"We've tried being a little too pretty but have to take a page out of our system and get back to the basics -- get pucks on net."

For those wondering, the Flames have failed their share of litmus tests so far this season. The record against teams sitting in playoff positions prior to last night's action was a paltry 2-6-1.

Keenan could remind his charges of that fact in preparation for this game.

Or he could recall the debacle in San Jose.

"Or, you may bring up the fact we beat (Detroit) here the last time we played them," Keenan said.

The skeptics are wondering if they can do it again.


Videos

Photos