Fizzling Flames need fire

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

CHICAGO -- A loss this afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks won't spell the end for the Calgary Flames.

It's not a do-or-die contest, so the old and tired cliches can't come up.

That said, their matinee at the United Center is pretty darn close to a must-win. At least, it's about as close as you can expect with 11 games left in the NHL regular season.

After all, the Flames sure frittered away a pair of outings to start their road swing and can't afford to continue that trend.

"Those are pretty much the same words we used in the dressing room, too," said defenceman Robyn Regehr after yesterday's short session in the Chicago suburbs. "You look back at our previous two games, and we had leads in both games. Even though we didn't play very well, we still had leads, and, at this time of year, you can't afford to be doing that.

"We need to fix that problem immediately and win against Chicago."

The Flames come into their final meeting with the Hawks riding a four-game losing skid, with the last two disappointing defeats to Eastern Conference weaklings in Washington and Atlanta.

Instead of pulling away from the pack in the Northwest Division race, they're back to the crowd of potential playoff teams. Talk about the worst possible time to be struggling and blowing games against weak clubs.

"We've talked as a team, with the players and with the coaches, and it's not a tap you can just turn on and off," Regehr said. "We want to create good habits and a good strong game for the rest of the season and be ready for the playoffs.

"We can not be doing things like we've done the last two games and expect to be a good team."

A good team? They can't continue that trend if they want to be a playoff team.

"If we've learned one thing over the past while, it's that teams aren't falling off," said Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf. "Vancouver, Nashville and Minnesota aren't fading away. In fact, Chicago and Phoenix are doing their best to keep within hailing distance of those valued post-season berths."

With two games remaining on their trip -- followed by a nine-game finale with all intra-divisional clashes -- the time is nigh to regain their form.

"We weren't good enough, we know that, and now we've got some big hockey games coming up," Phaneuf said. "You have to learn from them, but you have to move on because you're playing so many games. The way the schedule is you're playing every second night, and if you dwell on it too long, it's going to affect you the next game. We know we've got to be better, and that starts in Chicago."

And what would that lesson be?

"Start to finish, you can't take little lapses in games," Phaneuf said. "The teams are too good, and everybody's trying to win at this time of year."

But the season-long question with the team is about why those lapses are still happening.

The Flames are skilled enough to be a playoff team, but they've seemingly been victims of their own complacency -- easily content, easily satisfied.

"I think it's inconsistent," said Regehr when asked to describe his team. "I think our issue most of the year is the fact we haven't had guys playing the same way all the time.

"When you play a system, you give yourself a chance to win, whether it's by a great individual effort by a goaltender or a player on the team. There's a chance, and I don't think we've done a good enough job that way. You look at the good teams like Detroit or Dallas and they do that.

"And we're still giving up too many chances."


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