LOS ANGELES -- Heading into the home stretch, games against the NHL's weakest links end up the difference between an early end or a playoff berth.
Yet the Calgary Flames continue to waste those games against the league's cellar dwellers.
Not even a couple of weeks removed from dropping games against both the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames laid another egg against the Los Angeles Kings, the NHL's last-place team, with a 6-3 loss last night.
Instead of building on a winning streak that could mean a shot at the Northwest Division title, head coach Mike Keenan's crew again showed that lack of urgency that's come in fits and starts all year long.
"I couldn't agree with you more," Keenan said after assessing the carnage. "It makes you wonder what level of preparation is needed with this group, or what element of respect is there amongst the team members to play with that inconsistency."
Under normal circumstances, the Kings would have been ripe for the picking. Their vulnerability should have gone to a new degree, though, having just returned home from an eight-game road trip and missing four regulars, including No.-1 defenceman Rob Blake and scoring star Mike Cammalleri.
Instead of taking advantage of a wounded crew, the Flames played Keystone Kops through the first two periods and had no chance of recovering.
"We have some really good games and then we have really bad starts," sighed captain Jarome Iginla. "We gave up some chances, we gave them some easy chances, we weren't being physical. It was a bad first period and it carried over.
"We got ourselves back into it in the first -- the first 10 minutes we didn't do anything -- and they came out in the second and out-competed us."
Having dodged a bullet a few nights earlier by beating San Jose despite being grossly outplayed, you'd guess the Flames would be looking to earn a victory by dominating the Kings.
Instead, the Flames seemingly overlooked the Kings.
"I don't think it's taking them too lightly. We have a veteran team and all of us have been around long enough to know any team can beat anybody on any night," Iginla said.
Yeah, but that scenario seems to be happening every time the Flames (29-21-8) face a bottom feeder.
Shouldn't that be a major concern?
"We know in the dressing room what the standings are," Iginla countered. "It's not because a team's below you, you're supposed to beat them. We're supposed to prepare ourselves and make sure we're ready to play our game and how we compete, regardless of who we play.
"It's not concerning over which team. It's concerning, period. It's the time of the year we've got to start building consistency in our game."
From the drop of the puck, the Flames showed they weren't up to snuff, even against a Kings team that's well back of the pack with a 25-32-3 mark.
Yet they almost recovered by surviving a brutal first period with only a 3-2 deficit.
Instead of regrouping in the second period to take control of the game, the Flames were snuffed by Patrick O'Sullivan's shorthanded goal four minutes into the middle frame. By just past the midway point, Derek Armstrong and Anze Kopitar scored to make it a rout.
"We didn't play with any level of preparation at the start of the game," Keenan said. "We tried to get it during the game, which is too late. The league is too competitive when we try to do that."
Daymond Langkow, Dustin Boyd and Owen Nolan scored for Calgary.