SUN Hockey Pool

Not quite Keen enough

Flames coach Mike Keenan was not impressed with the work ethic of his players at practice. SUN...

Flames coach Mike Keenan was not impressed with the work ethic of his players at practice. SUN MEDIA/Jack Cusano

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:52 PM ET

The players gathered about 25 minutes after the Calgary Flames practice began yesterday at the Saddledome.

Head coach Mike Keenan spoke and then ordered the troops off the ice and to their dressing room.

There was no tongue-lashing, no screaming, no sticks thrown into the stands before storming off.

Keenan simply told the Flames to return to their digs. The session was over and done before the clock struck 11:30 a.m.

"I feel when we're here, it's a privilege to be at the arena. It's a privilege to play in the NHL. It's a privilege to coach in the NHL," Keenan said. "When you're asked to work for 30 minutes, I want you to work. If you're not going to work, it's not really productive to do anything but get off the ice.

"They're off for the day and they'll be back tomorrow."

Players were ordered not to discuss what took place or what was said in the room, which you can bet wasn't peaches and cream, although one player said it "wasn't Mike Keenan of 1989".

The Flames bench boss certainly had reason for disappointment. Too many passes weren't crisp or tape-to-tape, drills weren't done perfectly. Heck, on a five-on-none rush, a player went offside.

The fact Keenan didn't unload on his charges could be something of a surprise with a firm test tonight in the visiting Nashville Predators.

However, the situation is not a best-case scenario for a team that's in a fight for top spot in the Northwest Division.

Especially one that has been plagued by bad starts, which screams lack of focus.

Charting the Flames season is easy. It almost seems like a pendulum moving back and forth, good-start, bad-start, good-start, bad-start.

It was only a week ago the club had a practice filled with "complacency" and followed it with a terrible opening period in a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

One can't help but wonder whether Keenan should have to keep reminding his players to be focused and at their best.

One also has to wonder whether it's frustrating for a NHL head coach to be like a parent who has to teach their wayward child the same lesson day after day after day.

"To a certain extent, it's not frustrating because I'm mentally prepared to do that," Keenan said.

"If I have to -- if you like, have to tell your child every day -- I will, until they do it.

"If I have to tell you every day, I'll tell you every day. And finally you'll decide 'Well, maybe I should listen.' So don't expect me to stop reinforcing what you should be doing.

"I'll do it again tomorrow if I have to."

Should he? Really?

Calgary's record has proven the Flames are a good team. They're battling for top spot in the division, are 6-1-1 in the last eight and 25-10-6 since the start of December.

Still, the Flames will awake this morning with a lead as small as two points over whatever club is in eighth spot in the Western Conference.

It's only because they've been able to notch quite a few comeback wins the Flames have not been hurt worse by their slow starts.

Keenan, who didn't over-react when the team struggled mightily in November and didn't yesterday, still has an unused whip should it be needed.

Instead, he had a firm and strong reminder for his team as it prepares for tonight's clash against the Preds.

"If you're not getting better, you're getting worse," he said.

"And someone else is getting better. Other teams are getting better."


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