SUN Hockey Pool

Traffic jam in the West

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

They've collected 10 wins this month.

Only once since November began have they lost in regulation.

Points have been garnered in 12 of their last 13 contests -- 23 of a potential 26.

The Flames should be flying high in the standings, right?

Wrong.

On the board in their dressing room, it was posted in black and white. Before yesterday's action, the Flames were sitting in a three-way tie with Los Angeles and Nashville for third spot in the Western Conference. Two points back sat both Dallas and Edmonton with eighth-place Colorado only four back.

Phoenix, sitting ninth, was five behind Calgary's pace.

"It's amazing how tight it is," said captain Jarome Iginla. "To get points out of 11 of 12 games and be where we are keeps you on your toes and makes you realize how tough a playoff spot is. There's no breathing room so we have to keep going.

"As exciting as it is from a fan's point of view to have such tight standings, I wish we had more room but we've got to earn it."

The plan when November began was to make hay with 10 of the first 12 games at the Saddledome.

The Flames certainly did that by posting an 8-1-1 mark in those home clashes and made their lot in life even better by claiming both road contests, too.

The trick now will be to maintain a semblance of that success. It's not likely they'll stay on such a strong pace but the necessity to post a winning record on the upcoming five-game road trip becomes intensified by the conference standings, notes Marcus Nilson.

"We were behind the 8-ball at the start of the month and made up the ground to get in a decent spot," he said.

"The main thing, with so many games left, is to focus on each night. If you get ahead of yourself and look too much forward, it's not going to work. That is good about this group, it's really good on focusing on the next night coming up.

"I think that's the way it's gonna be all year. Everybody plays each other all the time, so you have to plug away. Every game is big."

There are no freebies over the trek that begins Tuesday in Nashville before running through Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey, especially since the Flames have come up short on their first two extended road trips.

But defenceman Andrew Ference said the 2-6-1 record his team collected during those two trips has no bearing on how they'll fare over the coming nine-day sojourn.

"I think we learned lessons from them but I don't think they're hanging over our heads like a dark cloud," Ference said. "Over the last month we learned a lot about ourselves, whether we were playing at home or on the road. I've always been a big believer home and away isn't as big a deal as people make of it. The advantages and disadvantages are more about how your club is playing rather than the venue.

"It's a different hockey club as far as confidence, proving what we're capable of to an extent," he continued. "Preparedness has been a big thing. One thing we struggled with at the start of the season was the 20-man preparation. You could see games where we'd go a period or two stretch where we'd play horrible with 10 or 12 good minutes.

"Gradually, over the last month, we've started tacking on two good periods and then two-and-a-half good periods. We've had a couple where we played a whole good game but it's a process we're still building."


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