Don't mess around with Jim

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Rhett Warrener's job is to defend on the ice.

The Calgary Flames defenceman did the same off the ice when it came to the subject of head coach Jim Playfair.

Warrener said suggestions Playfair should be facing the axe because the team has struggled mightily of late are misguided.

"It's not the coaching," Warrener said after receiving medical treatment at the Saddledome yesterday.

"It has nothing to do with coaching, it has nothing to do with a bad dressing room.

"I seem to remember Edmonton last year, what place did they finish? They were one win away (from winning the Stanley Cup).

"If we play the way we're capable, we should be OK.

"If we don't make the playoffs, then the sky's falling."

The way things have gone lately for the team, the Flames are on the verge of experiencing just that scenario. Certainly the mood throughout the city has become dire.

The team has just one win in five games heading into tonight's home clash with the Minnesota Wild. Instead of being in the middle of a dogfight for top spot in the Northwest Division, and the No.-3 seed that will come with it, the Flames are feeling the pressure of a hard-charging Colorado Avalanche squad that's closed the gap for the final playoff spot to eight points, and boasting a game in hand.

It's a far cry from the expectations throughout the city, and has fans calling for Playfair to be relieved of his duties so Darryl Sutter can return behind the bench.

Asked if he still believes his message to the players is getting through and whether they're responding, Playfair tersely and succinctly replied: "Absolutely."

Centre Craig Conroy said Playfair's done his job of preparing the team and drawing up the gameplan, so it's up to them to follow the design and make it work.

"I definitely don't think it's a coaching situation. The way we prepare, the way we do things, it's the execution on the ice when we make those mistakes," Conroy said.

"I think everybody's behind Jimmy. That's not an issue. It's the guys in that room, we've got to do it."

Conroy denied there's being any dressing room issues among the players.

"Not that I've seen. When guys don't play or sit out, I haven't heard those guys complaining. They all want to help," he said. "As we've got closer to playoffs, you know we're gonna have injuries, so you know you're gonna play.

"If there are guys complaining, they're complaining somewhere else because it's not in that room where guys have heard it. If you want to go home and complain with your wife, it's fine with me."

Kristian Huselius, whose 30-goal season has become an afterthought because of the swoon, said any frustration he's seen is a result of the team's struggles.

"We want to win more games," he said. "We're all professionals and trying to accomplish something here. We have to stay focused and move forward.

"We have a great team and a great group of guys."

That said, all's not well with the team.

Hope of catching Vancouver and Minnesota are becoming fainter with each passing day, since those clubs remain hot.

Throw into the mix Colorado's surge, 6-0-1 in the last seven, and a playoff spot has become no sure thing.

"The good thing about it is you have 11 games to right the ship," Conroy said. "You're hoping, in your mind, let's get all the junk out of our system now because if this happened in the playoffs, it's over. We can't afford to do that in the playoffs."

Staying on that bright outlook, Warrener was quick to remind what happened to the Flames last year.

They claimed the Northwest Division title and appeared on their way to a long playoff run with a hot March but were unceremoniously knocked out of the post-season in the opening round by Anaheim.

"Not to make excuses for the way we're playing, we should be better, but it's better to be fresh going into the playoffs than be worrying about first place," he said.

"We've got 11 games here to start building towards it."

Enough time to find their top form, said goaltender Jamie McLennan.

"We're still a positive group. We're still finding our groove. On the road, we've done some positive things, we just haven't got the results."


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