SUN Hockey Pool

Flames are hulks at home

The Calgary Flames are lacking confidence when they go on the road. (Sun Media/Darren Makowikchuk)

The Calgary Flames are lacking confidence when they go on the road. (Sun Media/Darren Makowikchuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

It was early in the season and the Calgary Flames were losing on the road.

Watching it unfold from the press box, an Eastern Conference team's pro scout made a bold prediction.

He said the Flames would struggle on the road for one big reason: "If I'm a defenceman, other than Jarome (Iginla), I don't see a forward who would physically scare me."

Calgary's dismal record away from the Saddledome has proven him prophetic.

The Flames were given a day off yesterday to enjoy a three-game winning streak, capped by Wednesday's 2-1 shootout victory over Minnesota, but today they'll again try to slay their dragon.

Starting tomorrow in Edmonton, they'll begin a three-game road swing. Away from the 'Dome, they have a dismal 7-15-8 mark -- the fewest road wins in the league.

Yet the Flames' 27 home wins are by far the most in the league. What's going on?

The scout believes Calgary tries to be abrasive and punishing but no longer has the right players to do it.

Think back to the 2003-04 squad that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. That club had physical forwards such as Chris Clark, Shean Donovan, Chris Simon and Ville Nieminen.

There aren't many of those physical-type forwards on the current Flames.

"They're not physically able to wear teams down," the scout said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When you have other physical guys, they wear down the opposition's top defencemen and that will help Jarome.

"Now, though, there's nobody to soften them up and Jarome doesn't get the same amount of time and space he had before."

That the Flames don't have the same roster isn't the issue, said the scout. The problem is the team's gameplan hasn't changed despite the addition of skill players Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, Tony Amonte and Jeff Friesen.

"You made a shift with players and now you have to make a shift with the game you play," the scout explained.

"I keep hearing the Flames say they need to be defence-first and grind it out.

"But Alex Tanguay has to be thinking, 'I'm not a grind-it-out player.'

"Detroit is an example of a team that has a game for their players. They're not going to grind it out, they're going to play with the puck. It's not so much of an adjustment for the Flames but they've got to use their strengths."

That's not where the Flames road woes end. There are other pressing issues, a former NHL player said.

Among them is the lack of confidence.

"You look at Miikka (Kiprusoff's) reaction after the shootout win (Wednesday) night and you can see it was getting in his head," he said.

"He exorcised the evil of the shootout in that game. That's the mental problem they have to solve as a team on the road.

"The number of times they've blown leads on the road is surprising. They were a lock last year but look at that Phoenix game

(Feb. 22). They were up 2-1, gave up the late goal and you could see they were thinking, 'Here we go again.' "

Inconsistent starts and Kiprusoff himself are other problems, he said.

"Part of it has to be on him," he said. "He was such money in the bank last year in one-goal games but it's like the shootout for him now. He plays like he knows he can't give up a goal."

It wouldn't hurt if those in front of Kiprusoff provided a better commitment to defence and started games on the road like they do at home.

"At the Saddledome, every game in the first period, it seems they outhit the other team 2-to-1 and dictate the play because of it," he said.

"On the road, they come out passive, wait to see how the other team is gonna play and become reactionary. If you consider yourself an elite team, and they should, you dictate the game at home and on the road."

The common belief is the Flames are too talented to flounder a whole season.

"It seems to me, they're not playing to their identity on the road," said a Western Conference team pro scout.

"Why they don't do that? I don't know. Why they can't do that? I don't know.

"I think they're going to do fine. They're a helluva hockey team at home and when they get a win or two on the road, they'll take off."

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IF ONLY THE ROAD RECORD WAS BETTER

Record Pctg Road Pts Overall Standings

7-15-4-4 .367 22 of 60 pts 77 pts 7th in West

HAD THE FLAMES EARNED MORE POINTS ON THE ROAD:

8-14-4-4 .400 24 of 60 pts 79 pts 6th in West

11-11-4-4 .500 30 of 60 pts 85pts 2nd in West

14-8-4-4 .600 36 of 60 pts 91 pts 1st in NHL


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