SUN Hockey Pool

Having an identity crisis

Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf reacts following an Edmonton Oilers goal at the Pengrowth...

Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf reacts following an Edmonton Oilers goal at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary Saturday night. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

The scenario sounds bizarre in light of the Calgary Flames recent -- and successful -- history.

On the heels of Monday's disappointing 4-1 loss to San Jose, there was head coach Jim Playfair saying his team needs to find its identity.

Come again?

The Flames identity is hardly a secret. You don't need Indiana Jones to help find it. It's not a case study for the cast of CSI.

Even the popcorn vendor in the nose bleeds can tell you what the Flames identity is.

It's about pursuit. It's about effort. It's about that old campaign slogan, 'All out, every shift.'

One would think, knowing how to play to the Flames identity would be simple. Or is it?

"It's a really hard way to play," insisted Playfair after yesterday's practice. "With the new rules, it looks like you should be able to play an easier-tempoed game but it's not that way. It's about closing down ice, making the battle areas confined and winning the puck battles. It's not hard, it's really simple in looking at it, but the hard part is convincing ourselves that's how we have to play at the beginning of the game."

But that doesn't mean skating from one corner of the rink to the other in a mad dash for the puck.

Centre Stephane Yelle, who may be the most cerebral player on the Flames roster, insists more attention to details is involved than at first glance.

"When you don't have that execution, you get away from the game plan and then you're stepping away from your identity. That's when you get in trouble," Yelle said. "It's a lot of little things, like the forwards coming back aren't in the right spot to be an outlet for our defence or the the defencemen aren't making the right pass to each other instead of going right back into traffic. There's a million little things you have to do to be working well and in the two games we've lost it hasn't been there consistently."

The work ethic. itself, hasn't been up to snuff through the first three games of the season, two of which ended as losses. That trend is setting off alarms.

"Just because we added a few different parts this year, our team doesn't change from what it was last year," said right winger Tony Amonte. "We have to fight for everything we get. That's the way it's gonna be. We're not gonna be fancy and make tic-tac-toe plays, it's not the way this team is built."

If reminders were needed, Playfair has doled a couple out following the final buzzer in Monday's defeat to the Sharks.

One was the half-hour bike ride for all the players immediately after the game.

Another was a hard practice yesterday, with effort and determination more the focus than anything else.

"Our responsibility now is to re-establish that (identity)," Playfair explained. "We've been wanting it to come back, we've been hoping it comes back but now it's non-negotiable, we have to go get it and find it.

"It's about urgency in practice, it's about attention to details, it's about the competitive level. Those are areas we know we weren't good at (Monday) and were average against Edmonton."

The club began last season the same way, albeit on the road, and were singing the same tune.

"It almost seems like the same way last year, everybody thought they we were gonna go out and score 10 goals a game," Amonte said. "It took a few games for us to figure out that's not the way it's gonna be."

Captain Jarome Iginla is also in that boat. Iginla insisted the team has plenty of time to turn its game around. After all, they started last season worse and still won the division title.

"It was one game. Honestly, it was one game," Iginla said of the routing by the Sharks. "Our powerplay needs to be a lot better, that's for sure, and any time we play like that -- it was a terrible game for us -- the coaching staff lets us know, we know and the fans let us know.

"We don't want to do that at home and don't ever want to lose like that but it was one game. It's not the end of the world, it's a matter of getting our focus back and finding ways to get some results."


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