Finger on panic button

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

OK, class, as we all know, the Calgary Flames returned home yesterday from a Thanksgiving weekend during which they were, well, feasted on.

As an entire city assumes it's officially time to panic now that Bryan Marchment has been signed to 'bolster' what was thought to be the league's best blueline, perhaps now would be a good time to reflect on the positives of the club's season-opening road trip.

Anyone?

OK, you in the back.

"Well, they beat Columbus."

Right you are.

The Blue Jackets had been picked by most experts to finish top-15 in the conference, making it a huge accomplishment, indeed.

Next?

"Um, offensively, the Flames are the most consistent team in the NHL, scoring three goals in every game."

We sense some sarcasm there.

Anyone else?

"Phillipe Sauve is well-rested."

Can we be a little more serious here? We're talking about the pre-season favourites to win the west.

"Dion Phaneuf proved he's the real deal, capable of slugging it out, jumping into the play and logging endless minutes as he did in junior."

Thank you. Finally, someone who can take things seriously.

Truth is, outside of Phaneuf's play, absolutely nothing good came of the Flames' opening road trip, during which the club surrendered 20 goals and lost three of four contests by at least three goals.

In short, the team was humiliated.

Granted, the schedule maker didn't do the Flames any favours by slotting them in as visitors in three home- openers, which are always tough assignments.

Still, the mood yesterday was understandably dour despite the fact the bunch will be the toast of the town tomorrow night when the team finally takes part in a home-opener of its own. The west championship banner will be raised, the Sea of Red will return and the bottled-up excitement Flames fans have pent up the last 16 months will be unleashed the second Kipper and his crew step onto the ice.

But for now, the Flames are in such dire straits Darryl Sutter inked Marchment yesterday in an effort to inject life and grit into a lineup sorely missing Robyn Regehr. Not that the 36-year-old greybeard can help with the team's principle problem, which is keeping the puck out of the net when shorthanded. Eleven times in four games the Flames penalty-killers were unable to do their job -- a number almost twice as high as the league's second-worst penalty-killers in San Jose.

Intensity has a lot to do with it, which has been the one ingredient Sutter preaches most, yet has witnessed the least so far.

Marchment should help with that. But then again, so should every character in that room who willed his way to the Stanley Cup final in 2004.

Right now, the goaltending is decidedly Turek-like, the defence-first attitude has been neglected and no one has shown the moxie to drop the gloves and shake things up.

So, with so much going sideways one week in, is there reason to fear a season with such high hopes is destined to be a carbon copy of the post-finals collapse seen in Anaheim or Carolina?

Not yet.

As tight as the divisional race will be and as crucial as every early-season point is, there's far too much talent and heart in the Flames dressing room for this to continue.

A win tomorrow at the 'Dome would cap a night of celebrations that will overshadow the rocky start and turn things around.

Another embarrassing loss and class is back in.

And the questions will be even harder to answer.


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