Flames shirk hard work

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

The Calgary Flames are in danger of losing their identity. If they haven't already.

After many years of failure, the Flames turned into an NHL success story thanks to relentless effort at both ends of the ice -- punishing defenders on the forecheck while playing with a stifling defence.

They became the hardest- working team in the league and were proud of the attitude instilled by Darryl Sutter when he took over as head coach.

That ugly green hard hat swapped between them all the way through to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final was more than just a team- bonding ritual, it was a true symbol of their lunch-bucket attitude.

They no longer can lay claim to that mantle. They are no longer the NHL's hardest-working team night after night after night.

The Flames are still a team whose game plan is based on as much tenacity as skill and they still have more wins than losses this season.

But are they the hardest- working team in the league?

Based on their defeats in Nashville and Dallas this week, they've lost the belt.

Case in point: The 5-3 loss to the Predators.

The host club, a team considered soft in the past, out hit the Flames by a 21-14 margin, a 3-to-2 ratio.

Throughout the game, the Preds were more aggressive and more active, winning battles for loose pucks and creating turnovers.

They received their spoils with a pair of early third-period goals to pull away.

Two days later, the Dallas Stars -- with eight players on the shelf and a plethora of young, inexperienced fill-ins from the minors in their place -- did the same. The only difference: The Stars pulled away from the Flames in the second period.

On a night when the Flames could have improved their putrid road record by matching a younger and less talented collection in work ethic, they came out flat. Again.

The signs of that waning work ethic go beyond a couple road losses.

Defensive play is the club's biggest problem.

Last year's Flames squad was No. 1 in the league when it came to keeping the puck out of their net. As much as that accomplishment was a byproduct of Miikka Kiprusoff's brilliance, the team-wide commitment to supporting the star netminder was a huge factor.

This season, that number alone proves Calgary's defensive play isn't as tight.

When the 2005-06 season ended, the Flames boasted a league-best 2.32 GAA. (Kiprusoff's was 2.07.)

Heading into tonight's meeting with the Anaheim Ducks, they're eighth in goals against at 2.60, a number that's been rising for more than a month. (Kiprusoff's average is 2.34.)

In their last 20 games, the Flames have held the opposition to two or fewer goals only five times and surrendered 61 goals.

Granted, they're a much more potent squad offensively but defence is supposed to be their bread and butter, stemming from a willingness to pay the price.

Around the NHL, players still pay homage to the Flames' work ethic.

Before and after games, you hear statements from opposition players, praising the Calgary squad for its blue-collar attitude.

The time has come for this team to prove it still deserves such acclaim.


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