SUN Hockey Pool

Flames fizzle early

Flames forward Stephane Yelle is stopped by Flyers netminder Martin Biron during first period...

Flames forward Stephane Yelle is stopped by Flyers netminder Martin Biron during first period action on Thursday. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Pomp and circumstance greeted the Calgary Flames when they hit the ice for the opening ceremonies.

Flanking each of the hockey heroes when the introduction took place was a collection of minor hockey youngsters.

Appropriate, too, seeing as the Flames started the season looking just like a bunch of minor hockey players.

Sure, they made a game of it by the end, but the Flames were victimized by a sloppy and sporadic first period and a combination of bad luck and poor defensive zone coverage en route to dropping the season's curtain raiser 3-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers last night.

"You have a lot better start and you have a lot better chance to win games," said Flames centre Daymond Langkow. "You spot a team a two-goal lead and it's tough to come back."

Curious enough, the Flames did come back. Just not all the way, and have now lost their last five season-openers.

Almost as if to make a point their poor start problem wouldn't go unpunished, the Flames suffered a disheartening defeat thanks to Daniel Briere's game winner with less than two minutes remaining.

As the Saddledome sellout crowd of 19,289 swelled with anticipation of a comeback victory, Calgary's Anders Eriksson tried to dump the puck deep in offensive territory.

Instead, though, it bounced off Craig Conroy and sprung Simon Gagne on a rush.

Briere, Philly's prized off-season free-agent acquisition, zoomed to open ice for the breakaway feed and roofed the winner past goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. "Crappy the way the game ended," Eriksson said. "Trying to do the right thing. But we have 81 games here left."

The way the Flames started, it was just desserts.

No matter how much the Flyers have improved their last-place squad of a year ago, they still have a defence corps ripe for the picking.

Instead, it was the hosts stumbling and bumbling in their own zone to start off.

Only a few minutes into the tilt, Briere -- looking to prove he deserves the eight-year, US$52-million contract he was handed -- grabbed the puck from Adrian Aucoin behind the net and made good on the rebound after his wraparound attempt was stymied.

With only eight minutes off the clock, Mike Knuble made it a two-goal edge, taking advantage of a five-on-three powerplay created when Aucoin joined Wayne Primeau in the sin bin.

The Flames eventually found their legs and began drawing penalties of their own, but wasting more than a period was hardly the vision.

"The second half of the game was good, but we know in our locker-room we have to find the way to put that together for the whole game," said captain Jarome Iginla. "The start wasn't good enough."

Langkow scored twice, both on the powerplay, in each of the final two periods, but it just made the end result all the tougher to take.

"I thought the effort was a little bit inconsistent," said head coach Mike Keenan. "We had some flurries where we had a lot of momentum and a lot of intensity to our game, but I didn't like the way we started.

"I think we could have come out and established our game quicker."

Flames are back in action tomorrow night when the Vancouver Canucks come calling.


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