Puck stops here

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Maybe the fans will finally realize a trip back to the Stanley Cup final is not an inevitability for the Calgary Flames.

Still hung over from the post-season party nearly 16 months ago, the team's followers have been drinking a little too much Flames Kool-Aid since the new CBA was ratified.

They've since been sobered by a horrendous season-opening four-game road trip, during which the Flames went 1-3 while being outscored 20-12 over that stretch.

Those 20 goals against are what most disturb Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

"That's the biggest concern for our team, no question," said Sutter yesterday after his charges went through off-ice workouts.

"I'm a firm believer you win some games that maybe you shouldn't win and you lose some that you should have won but the last two games that we played on the trip we (deserved to lose)."

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has been inconsistent but was peppered by shots in Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit and Colorado.

"Kipper was really good in Columbus.

I thought he struggled in Minnesota early in the game," said Sutter. "In Detroit, the powerplays really took him right out of it. I think (Monday in Colorado), the second goal, he'd absolutely want it back.

"When you're a team that needs to work on some defensive things, every goal that's not a good goal against you hurts your team."

Defenceman Andrew Ference admits the average of five goals against per game is discouraging.

"The goals-against is something we take huge pride in as a team, as defence, as a goaltender," said Ference, who said the defence aims to limit opponents to around 20 shots.

"When you start looking up at the scoreboard and it says 35, 40 (shots against) -- whether or not it's three powerplays or not, it's just an unacceptable number."

So what makes a defensive powerhouse appear powerless to stop attackers during a

7-3 loss to the Avalanche, 6-3 loss to the Red Wings and 6-3 opening-night defeat at the hands of the Wild?

"A lot of mistakes. A lot of mental mistakes," admitted Ference, one of many Flames guilty as charged. "In my own case, standing right beside a guy and you've got him but you don't take his stick. Just stupid little plays like that."

While things have gone horribly wrong for the defending Western Conference champs thus far, it's too early to count them out as a contender. Defenceman Jordan Leopold says the team will settle down soon enough.

"We don't want to hit the panic button. There's no reason to do that," said Leopold.

"We just have to settle down and play the game, really. I think guys, including myself, we're a little too anxious sometimes and gripping our sticks a little bit too tight."

Flames captain Jarome Iginla said he and his teammates aren't hanging their heads.

"Our feeling is still very upbeat," said Iginla, still sporting his trademark smile. "Pretty much all areas of our game need to improve but we can improve them. It was not a good road trip but it will be good to come home."


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