Highs 'n' lows

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:57 AM ET

The question came with great regularity on the Wet Coast.

"So, are the Flames going to win the Cup?"

A few times, it was even followed with the words, "I'm picking them to win the Northwest Division."

For somebody who's been in the Stampede City all those years since the Stanley Cup win of 1989, these are wild and wacky times, indeed.

Think back a couple of years -- How would you have reacted if you were told the Flames would be favoured by Sports Illustrated to win the Stanley Cup?

You'd think there would be elation in Flamesland right now. Fact is, there isn't.

Nor should there be.

Undoubtedly, things are looking pretty peachy for the club now that the pre-season is finished.

They posted a respectable 4-3-1 record in eight clashes and came away with only one significant injury -- the knee sprain that will keep Robyn Regehr on the shelf for about four weeks.

Still -- not that it should be a surprise seeing as the exhibition slate is really just a warm-up -- all's not perfect.

There are some causes for concern that need to be addressed for those Stanley Cup-winning dreams to become a reality.

* The powerless play.

The numbers are ugly. Make that abysmal.

In their eight pre-season games, the Flames powerplay scored only five times in 75 chances, a putrid 6.67% success rate. (Worse yet, in the final five games it was one-for-37.)

The new and improved NHL will see plenty of special teams action as players slowly become re-programmed to rid themselves of bad habits accumulated over the past decade.

For a team that clicks on the powerplay, it could be a gold mine in the early months of the season.

Should the Flames not find the mark, wins will be much harder to come by.

By the way, after Friday night's loss in Vancouver GM/head coach Darryl Sutter said of his team's powerplay: "When Jarome (Iginla) starts scoring, then the powerplay will work."

* The penalty parade.

Sure, it's a learning process that will take time but the Flames had a reputation around the league of clutching, grabbing, hooking and holding. And their pre-season play didn't exactly dispel that notion.

They were shorthanded 10 or more times in five of their eight games and reached double digits in three of the final four clashes.

Speed is not an issue for the Flames, nor is work ethic, so those infractions shouldn't be happening that often. However, their penalty killing posted a solid 85% success rate.

* Backup goaltending.

Miikka Kiprusoff was outstanding in his two starts, and appears ready for a workload that may be in the 65-70 range, provided he remains healthy.

The battle for the backup job was neither won by Brent Krahn nor lost by Philippe Sauve, who has the advantage of a one-way contract, meaning it'll be a surprise if Sauve's not No. 2 when the season begins.

However, Sauve struggled in his last outing and didn't appear ready for the bright lights on a regular basis. Krahn was arguably the better of the two but could use a full season of being No.-1 in the minors.

If Kiprusoff puts together a season similar to 2003-04, it won't be much of an issue. If he goes down with an injury, though, it could be trouble. Still, it's not all doom and gloom.

Iginla and Tony Amonte took their game up a notch, setting up a potentially promising combination with Daymond Langkow. And the second scoring line of Chris Simon, Steve Reinprecht and Chuck Kobasew may have been the best unit from start to finish during the pre-season.

On defence, Roman Hamrlik had his best game in Vancouver -- a good sign since he'll be skating upwards of 25 minutes a game until Regehr returns.


Videos

Photos