SUN Hockey Pool

Case of addition through division

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

These are the games that define a season.

Home games against division rivals.

If the Calgary Flames are to challenge for another divisional crown -- or simply make the playoffs -- matchups like tonight's against Colorado will ultimately tell the tale.

While Alex Tanguay's first game against his old team offers a delicious subplot to the Flames' first of eight meetings against Joe Sakic and the Kids, the players are focused on kick-starting a crucial stretch that includes five of their next seven games and 13 of their next 22 against Northwest foes.

"For me, and for all of us, it's division games," said Tanguay, whose Avs dropped five of eight games to Calgary last year, ultimately finishing eight points back at season's end.

"Right now, the way the schedule is, playing a team eight times, you've got to make sure you take advantage of those eight games."

Last year, the Flames won the division because they posted a dominating 20-8-4 record against Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver.

A repeat performance and the Flames will have a playoff berth clinched a month before the playoffs.

So far they're 2-2.

However, a .500 record against such clubs could spell disaster.

Case in point: Had the Flames finished, say, 14-14-4 against the Northwest last season, they easily would have missed the post-season.

At least last year they could fall back on the fact they were 26-17-7 outside their division.

This year they're .500 against the rest of the NHL, which includes losses to five teams that missed the playoffs last year.

The Flames can take solace their slow start has only included four divisional games and none against Minnesota or Colorado. They're coming.

Had the Flames' season-opening stumble come at the hands of more Northwest clubs, there'd be even more cause for panic in the foothills than there is every time their special teams cost them a game.

Fact is, the club is now back at .500, just five points behind division-leading Edmonton and Minnesota. A win tonight in an 'in-house, four-pointer' could put them in an eighth-place tie with Vancouver.

Putting even more pressure on the Flames as they kick off this pivotal, three-game homestand is their three losses in the last four games all came on the road.

Only four teams have road records worse than the Flames' 3-7-1-1 mark, making it even more crucial the club wins at the 'Dome where Colorado lost all four meetings last year.

To put things in perspective, the Flames lost just seven games in regulation at home last year.

One quarter of the way through this season and they've dropped three of 10 at home, meaning they'll have to go roughly 23-4-4 to keep pace with 2005-06 standards.

Should they be able to do that, divisional games like these will be won in hordes, making their push to the playoffs a lot easier.

It would be a monumental turnaround, given their start. Such is life in the NHL's toughest division -- a place where all five teams would likely make the playoffs this year if they didn't have to beat each other up so much.

Let the beatings begin.


Videos

Photos