SUN Hockey Pool

Sea of dread

ERIC FRANCIS, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

The players won't admit it, nor will the coach.

But what local hockey fans are witnessing right now is the unravelling of the Calgary Flames.

At a time when serious Stanley Cup contenders are ramping up their play for a final push into the post-season, the Flames' play continues to belie the incredible talent on their roster.

Fresh off adding two more losses to the NHL's worst road record and faltering several times of late by coughing up third-period leads, the club has done nothing to suggest momentum can still be swung in their favour.

Instead, by gaining just three of a possible 10 points of late, the team is falling further and further behind in a once-tight divisional race that will almost undoubtedly see the locals finish no better than eighth, earning them a first- round showdown with the best team in hockey.

That's assuming they can hold off a hard-charging Avalanche squad that had better be disposed of before its two-game showdown with Calgary in the final week of the season. Otherwise, the Flames could be facing a season-ending faceoff in Colorado to determine a playoff spot.

We all know how that would end, given how the Flames were dominated in Denver the other night.

Starting tonight with Minnesota in town, the Flames schedule is the toughest in the Western Conference, given the fact only two of their remaining 11 games come against sub-500 teams -- Chicago and Edmonton.

Next week, their opponents include the NHL's two best -- Detroit and Nashville -- which could provide a scary barometer for the club as it steadies to face one of them in a best-of-seven battle. After that, it's four straight on the road.

This while rumours swirl the players are chapped at Jim Playfair, injuries continue to mount, Miikka Kiprusoff continues to be barraged with shots and the club has lost 10 of its last 12 on the road.

Yes, their effort Thursday in Dallas was a solid one.

Still, same old result.

Of the team's paltry nine road wins, here's the scariest stat of them all: Only one victory came against a Western Conference playoff team -- a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Remembrance Day.

It's a terrifying fact for a team that did most of its damage in the 2003-04 playoff run while on the road.

The feeling all season long was that given the club's bolstered lineup and dominance at home, it was only a matter of time before the Flames would right the ship away from the 'Dome.

It hasn't happened.

And the fear amongst legions of frustrated fans is the team has run out of time to change that trend.

On the positive side, the Flames still have an eight-point cushion on the Avs (who have a game in hand), their home record is 28-6-2, they're 33-20-3 against the West, they can still score with the best of 'em and there are no shootouts in the playoffs.

Heck, they're still 13 games above .500.

But no one talks anymore about the breakthrough seasons from Kristian Huselius and Matthew Lombardi or the stellar production from Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Dion Phaneuf. They talk of a battered blueline that can't keep enough pucks out of harm's way and an average-looking Kiprusoff who isn't bailing them out as often as he once did.

And through it all, there are still ridiculous whispers Playfair's job isn't safe.

Despite the brilliant roster Darryl Sutter has assembled, the Flames are falling apart at the seams at the worst possible time.

The time is now to reverse that trend.

Or else...


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