SUN Hockey Pool

Reign of fire building

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

How good have the Calgary Flames been during this season?

Feel free to count the ways.

Despite the hand wringing and phone-in show carping any time a 'W' isn't tacked on the board, the numbers tell how strong the Calgary Flames have become.

Only three calendar years -- and two seasons -- removed from missing the playoffs for the seventh-straight time, the Flames are putting together one of their best campaigns in franchise history.

That's right, all those fans worrying about every single loss and complaining the wins aren't by a big enough margin, you're looking at what's panning out to become one of the franchise's finest seasons.

At the Olympic break, only twice have the Flames recorded more victories than the 33 Darryl Sutter and his troops have collected so far in 2005-06.

Likewise, only twice have the Flames recorded more points than the 73 this year's squad has garnered already.

Both of those totals are one back of the No.-2 season Flames fans have seen, 1987-88.

Rest assured, reaching the standards set by the Stanley Cup-winning side of 1988-89 (54 wins and 117 points in 80 games) is not realistic.

Still, it goes to show despite a horrible start -- four wins in 11 October games -- and the swoon of late January/early February hasn't put the team off track of Sutter's expectations.

In fact, it's fair to say they're exceeding even his goals.

From Day 1, Sutter said the team to beat in the Northwest Division, the NHL's toughest grouping, is the Vancouver Canucks.

Sure, it was a goal to sit atop the division when the Olympic break arrived but even he figured the West Coast Express was the one to be there.

Made sense, too, since the Canucks claimed the division crown in 2003-04 and had almost all of its roster intact when the season began.

Yet, when the puck drops in Turin for the Olympic tournament and the bulk of the NHL's players are on vacation, the standings will see Calgary riding high.

In typical Sutter fashion, the GM/head coach downplayed his team's spot earlier this week.

"I don't make a big deal out of being in first place," he said.

"I look at it more in how well we've played and we're in a playoff position.

"You know what they give you for first place? Ten minutes for delaying the game to raise the banner. That's it."

That's not to say life is free and clear for the Flaming 'C.'

Even with such a strong start, the Flames awake this morning only three points ahead of their closest competitor -- today it's Colorado -- in the Northwest Division race.

Vancouver, the team most people expected to run away with the Northwest, sit four back, while Edmonton is six points behind.

Those three teams all play today, too, which can mean an even smaller gap, though Calgary will have games in hand.

If that's not enough to make the objects in the rearview mirror closer than they appear, the Flames are sitting 10 points clear of the teams outside the playoff picture.

And the toughest tests are yet to come.

The condensed schedule will see Calgary play 25 games in 49 nights after the break -- around the norm in the final seven weeks of the season -- and that stretch includes a seven-game road swing while the world's top figure skaters take over the Saddledome in mid-March.

The tall order could see Calgary sink like a stone, possibly outside the playoff race (although, that is doubtful.)

It could even mean a .500 pace the rest of the way, resulting in a bottom-half playoff spot and hard road come the post-season.

Or, it could just be the beginning of another great run.

Time will tell but until then feel free to wave the Canadian flag for our nation's heroes at the Olympics and relish what has been accomplished so far by the Flames.

- - -

FLAMES WINNERS

FLAMES BEST SEASONS THROUGH 57 GAMES

                    

SEASON 57-GAMES FINAL RECORD

*1988-89 38-11-8--84 54-17-9--117

*1987-88 34-17-6--74 48-23-9--105

**2005-06 33-17-7--73 48-24-19--106

*1990-91 30-21-6--66 46-26-8--100

*1989-90 26-18-13--65 42-23-15--99

***1992-93 31-19-7--69 43-30-11--97

***1993-94 29-19-9--67 42-29-13--97

*1986-87 31-24-2--64 46-31-3--95

****2004-05 29-20-8--66 42-30-10--94

*80-game season; **Pro-rated through 82 games; ***84-game season; ***82-game season


Videos

Photos