SUN Hockey Pool

D making goal-line stand

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

There wasn't much 'Rider Pride in the Calgary Flames dressing room yesterday.

"Yeah, you can see we're in mourning," said Robyn Regehr of Rosthern, Sask., while looking over at Shaunavon's Rhett Warrener.

"We're wearing all black."

Wearing black and feeling blue.

Fortunately, they didn't stay overnight in Vancouver after playing the Canucks Saturday night to witness their beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders get thrashed 45-18 at the hands of the B.C. Lions in the CFL West Final.

At least the Saska-boys, defence partners over the last couple of weeks, have their own recent play to be happy about.

Not only have they caused plenty of opposing players to become black and blue but Regehr and Warrener are both finding their form as a defensive pairing.

Regehr began the year with Dion Phaneuf after Jordan Leopold -- Regehr's partner the previous few seasons -- was traded to Colorado last summer.

However, after the Flames struggled in the opening month, head coach Jim Playfair opted to place Regehr with his good friend Warrener. Since then, the Flames have a 4-0-1 record and are on a four-game winning streak heading into tonight's game with the St. Louis Blues ('Dome, 7:30 p.m., Sportsnet).

"We weren't winning games. I don't think it came down to one pair of defencemen but when you're not winning games, it has to be addressed," Regehr said of being split from Phaneuf.

"I've been more effective, that's the best way to put it. I feel I'm doing a better job in my role of being hard on guys and helping the team win.

"At the start of the season, I felt I was spinning my wheels and it's not a very good feeling.

"But once the team starts winning and you get into a rhythm -- as Jimmy likes to say -- you feel better about yourself and your play."

From a numbers point of view, the change has done wonders for Warrener.

Since being paired with Regehr, his ice time has increased. Warrener played 22:31 and collected a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory in Vancouver.

"It's a work in progress and I don't think too many people would call it a Monet," Warrener said with a grin.

"We just try to grind it out, play physical and play good defence.

I don't think there are a lot of secrets to what we try to do.

"We approach the game the same way. Robyn's more skilled than I am and can make nicer plays but his approach, playing hard defensively and being as physical as you can, is a lot like the way I approach the game. I don't think we're too confused at how each other's gonna play."

Which is one of the reasons the Flames are feeling confident about their game these days.

Their dismal opening month erased, the club reached the .500 mark on the weekend (7-7-2) and -- as stunning as it seems -- could move into a spot among the Western Conference's top-eight teams with a win over the Blues.

Those feats are merely rungs up the ladder for a team that sees itself as a Stanley Cup contender. But players will admit feeling psychological boosts when they look at the standings.

"Something like that, it's huge," said defenceman Roman Hamrlik. "We lost so many games in the beginning but it was early in the season. I hope the tough times are behind us. If we keep rolling like this, we have a good chance to climb in our division."

That said, the Flames are not at the top of their game.

They're still surrendering too many shots on goal and relying heavily on goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, while failing to generate enough shots on opposing nets.

Playfair has no shortage of reminders to use to keep his charges from becoming overly confident.

"We're playing pockets of periods and pockets of games, good enough to win but I don't think we're playing at the top end of our game."


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