Two too long

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Funny how things have changed for the Calgary Flames in such a short time.

For so long, a two-game losing streak happened with such regularity, it was almost the norm.

Teeth weren't grinding and hair wasn't being pulled out until slides were in the four-, five- or six-game range.

Now, dropping two straight means plenty of angst among the Stampede City faithful and a renewed focus in the dressing room.

After yesterday's practice at Nassau Coliseum in preparation for tonight's clash with the struggling Islanders (5 p.m., Sportsnet, Fan 960), the music was playing and laughter could be heard but the tone showed expectations are to end the slide before leaving the East Coast.

For all the talk of the ship sinking, it's important to note we're talking about a team that lost one of the tilts in OT during its skid, boasts a 6-3-1 mark in the last 10 and still sits atop the Northwest Division standings.

"But our mentality is here is now and now we've lost two in a row and that's no good," said winger Darren McCarty. "We could be 18-2 in our last 20 but if we'd lost the last two, that's a bad feeling. That's a winning mentality, not rest on your laurels or what you've done before.

"That's what makes this game that much bigger."

A loss tonight would match the season high (or is it low?) set early in the campaign.

If there's a team ripe for the picking right now, it's the seemingly always-in-disarray Islanders.

They've lost eight of nine -- with that lone victory against Florida -- and head coach Steve Stirling paid for it by being fired last night.

Moreover, the Flames have simply owned the Long Island squad, having won 12 of the last 14 meetings and six straight at Nassau.

One would think it's a perfect chance to step on the collective windpipes of a fragile group. Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who's seen his fair share of days the Islanders skaters are living right now, said he and his teammates can't be looking at tonight's clash that way.

"Most people have been through that one time or another with some team, when things are really rough," he said. "When you're in that position, you're just looking for one game to spark it and turn it around.

"We know they're desperate but when you play the East, it's important to focus on our team and our game. You don't play them enough to get to know their tendencies. It's more about our game. It hasn't come up in our room what's going on in theirs."

There are no shortage of reasons for introspection.

First off, both of Calgary's recent losses came despite holding a two-goal edge, not the type of thing you'd expect from a team known to be so strong defensively.

Also, missed offensive opportunities have come back to haunt the team.

Then there are items such as defensively miscues and costly turnovers to consider.

"You don't want to get in the habits of losing," Iginla said. "When you lose games, there's usually reasons why -- things you didn't do well as a group -- and you want to stop those before they creep in and become habits.

"It's really important, this game.

"It's not just the habits side but also the standings side," he added. "Before we lost two in a row, we could have been seven points up on Vancouver and now we're two up on them and three up on Edmonton. There's no time for us to go into a spin."

With the 82-game schedule, it is inevitable every team has bad stretch.

Now just past the midway point, could it be the mid-season doldrums or the grind of so many games in so few days?

"It's not like a lull. It's just the way the game is," McCarty said. "You're not going to win every game and have a little letdown but the difference between good teams and bad teams is how quickly you get out of it, how quickly you regroup and realize you're in a slide and get back on the ball before it goes on."


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