SUN Hockey Pool

Flames starting to flicker

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

EDMONTON -- That spell atop the division, brief as it was, sure seems a distant memory right now for the Calgary Flames.

Seeing as they've since dropped three straight games after that ascent, including last night's 2-1 defeat in Edmonton at the hands of the Oilers, it's becoming farther and farther in the past.

"Good teams find a way to win, and right now we're not," said forward Alex Tanguay.

"When things go well, it's time to push even harder to keep it rolling.

"Right now, it's like we've taken our foot off the gas pedal and we're waiting to see what's gonna happen, as opposed to making it happen.

"It's what we're doing here. It's not what the other teams have done against us.

"It's really a matter of us working and getting back to the things that make us successful."

It's a lengthy list for the Flames to do all the things that made them climb 11 spots in the Western Conference race, but it's become painfully obvious what aspect of the game stands atop the chart: Stopping the continuous poor first periods.

Facing an Oilers team that's built some momentum with a four-game winning streak, the Flames used the same fruitless ploy that's led to their swoon at the beginning of last night's affair, simply being out-played in the first period before the sellout Rexall Place crowd of 16,839.

They lost all the battles for loose pucks.

They lost all the battles in the corners.

They came out flat on the first couple of five ineffective powerplays.

"Every first period, it's kinda like we're waiting to see if we can make it an easy game by taking a lead 2-0 without working," Tanguay said.

"This league, you don't win hockey games if you don't play the whole game.

"At least don't shoot yourselves in the foot in the first period, and that's what we did.

"Twenty-one minutes and we're down two-zip and couldn't catch up."

Shawn Horcoff's powerplay goal before the midway point of the first period -- Edmonton's only man-advantage opportunity in the whole game -- opened the scoring.

Ales Hemsky's highlight-reel tally in the first minute of the middle frame was all the Oilers (21-21-4) needed to give them their first four-game winning streak of the season.

"Especially in the first half of the game, we got out-competed," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"Second-efforts, we're really good at that -- that's part of our game, out-competing and working hard -- and we haven't been as sharp in our last few games in the first half of the game.

"Right now, our habits -- we have to be honest with ourselves -- have slipped a bit and we've got to get back at it."

The real killer was Hemsky's tally.

The slick-skating and ultra-talented Oilers winger zipped around shutdown defenceman Robyn Regehr before deking out goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and slipping the puck into the open side of the net.

Regehr took the blame, saying he was caught flat-footed when Hemsky took advantage of a neutral-zone turnover.

"They've got a good transition game, they've got really skilled and speedy forwards," Regehr said.

"I think Hemsky came across his off-side wing, had a lot of speed and I didn't have enough.

"I tried to make a play on the puck, he protected it and made a great move on Miikka.

"It's a one-on-one, and I've got to do a better job."

Kiprusoff stopped 29 shots for Calgary (22-16-8).

Daymond Langkow pounded a rebound past Edmonton goalie Mathieu Garon early in the third period to give the Flames hope, but they couldn't complete the comeback.

Garon, who's assumed the No. 1 job in Edmonton, recorded 27 saves.

Making the night even worse was the success for all four other Northwest Division clubs last night.

"Look at the standings and you see how tight the race is, and every team in our division won except us," Keenan mused.

"As far as the division is concerned, we had a poor night."

Calgary's road trip continues tomorrow in Nashville before ending the night after in Minnesota.

The return home Friday to face the Los Angeles Kings at the Saddledome.


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