Flames lack Iron will

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

On a day when the Calgary Flames players were sporting new hats, their head coach put on an old one.

Mike Keenan had to flash a little 'Iron' early in practice at the Stampede Corral yesterday, when his charges came out of the gate too slowly for his liking. A few choice cuss words were tossed out, and the old barn was pretty quiet the rest of the way.

When the 40-minute session was winding down, Keenan made his way out as the players stretched before a short hike back to the Saddledome with new white Flames toques to protect their sweaty brows from the chilly wind.

Addressing the media a little later, Keenan was asked whether he was concerned about the practice following another loss Sunday night in Vancouver.

"No, they practised hard today," said Keenan. "I'm concerned that the coach has to prod them to practise hard.

"But I wasn't concerned about the results. We got the results."

Results have been hard to come by for the Flames through 20 games so far this season.

A quarter of the way through, they have just eight wins and sit 12th in the Western Conference prior to last night's action, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers.

"I feel that the team has underachieved," Keenan said frankly when asked to assess what has taken place so far. "Our expectations going into the season were much higher than the results that we're getting at this point.

"Sometimes you can build expectations that are too high, that aren't achievable -- and that might be certainly a fair comment -- but to be in the position we're in, I think it's a fair comment to say that overall, we're not in the position that we expected to be."

The next 20 games, starting with a home date with the Colorado Avalanche tonight, will determine what position the Flames can expect to find themselves at season's end. The good news -- if you agree with Keenan's analysis the team is capable of more -- is the Flames are just five points off the Northwest Division lead and three out of a playoff position. The bad news is they've beaten only a handful of teams this year, with six of their triumphs coming in pairs against Edmonton, Nashville and Minnesota. They also beat Dallas in overtime and the lowly L.A. Kings, while failing to string together more than two consecutive wins.

Their goaltender is struggling to regain his Vezina form. Their scorers, aside from Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, seem to slump in spurts, and too often, the team just doesn't seem to care.

Heading into the second quarter, the fact half the defence corps is new can no longer be used as an excuse.

"I think you learn something new, you get more comfortable with the guys the longer you go," said blueliner Anders Eriksson, one of the new players. "The longer you play with someone, the better you feel."

He agrees it shouldn't be used as a crutch, though, and the team as a whole needs to find that level of motivation Keenan alluded is missing.

"We're comfortable, we're confident in everybody who's in here," said Eriksson. "There's no panic. We know what needs to be done.

"We just need to be accountable -- I think that's the big word, to be accountable for yourself and to others and be able to stand up and say that."

If the players do eventually take ownership, maybe Keenan can retire the Iron permanently.


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