SUN Hockey Pool

Keen not to lose faith

Head coach Mike Keenan is of the belief an even keel is the wisest course of action right now for...

Head coach Mike Keenan is of the belief an even keel is the wisest course of action right now for the Flames. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Having seen his team win one of five games to start the season, Mike Keenan knows plenty of doom and gloom is raging in the Stampede City.

Don't for a second think that record is sitting well with the Calgary Flames or their head coach, either.

However, after digging out from the disappointment of a back-to-back sweep at the hands of the rival Edmonton Oilers, Keenan is of the belief an even keel is the wisest course of action right now.

He insists the club isn't that far off from cobbling together a winning streak.

"We've seen so many fluctuations in our play," he said.

"At the same time, we've seen so many good things. It's the consistency of putting it all together.

"You couldn't ask for a better road period (than in Edmonton Saturday). To have that for another 40 minutes is what we're asking for from our players."

Well, that may be a bit much to ask.

As periods go, the first 20 minutes in Edmonton was about as good as the club has seen in recent memory.

The Flames carried every aspect of the play and deserved to be up by a 2-0 score. Shots on goal were 17-3.

Cranking out that kind of performance for a full game would be darn near impossible unless the NHL witnesses a reincarnation of the 1974-75 Washington Capitals or 1992-93 Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks.

But are the Flames really that bad a team?

Certainly, they won't only win one of every five games -- pro-rated, that would mean a 17-win season.

They insist the problems aren't fatal, and the biggest struggle, costly defensive-zone breakdowns, can be fixed.

"Our season, to this point, is not as good as we want it to be," Keenan said after his charges went through an off-ice work-out and video sessions yesterday.

"It's not as good as we were in the pre-season, and we have to shore that up. What you'd ideally like to get to is 10 or 12 (scoring chances against) per game, so you've got three or four in a period and it's exceptional if it's two."

As veteran centre Craig Conroy said: "It's disappointing, obviously, but it's fixable. It's time to fix it now and move forward."

There may be some merit to that instinct.

The last time the Flames started with a 1-3-1 record was 2005-06, and they were actually even worse defensively than this year's squad in goals surrendered.

That team went on to win the Northwest Division, and in fact, when the dust settled, Calgary was the No.-1 defensive team in the league, and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff collected himself both the William Jennings and Vezina trophies.

You can't expect the same result, but it's proof positive things can turn.

Besides, if you're looking for positives, the Flames have a respectable penalty killing rate of 80% and a solid powerplay proficiency of 20%, and that's after failing to click on the first 13 chances.

"We've gotten good first periods and have been getting the lead," Conroy added.

"We've just got to put it in lockdown, especially in the second period."

Which comes back to defensive play, obviously the main subject of yesterday's screen time.

"We had great application, for the most part of our pre-season games, and maybe we've started to look at other parts of our game we want to get better at and have not paid attention to it," Keenan said.

"I don't mean practice details, just mentally we haven't focused in on it enough as a group."

Bank on that happening when they play host to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals tomorrow night.

"We have to be better in a lot of areas, not just one or two," said defenceman Dion Phaneuf.

"Bottom line is we've got to start winning hockey games. We haven't been good enough."


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