SUN Hockey Pool

Room for improvements

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

A silver lining can be found to the Calgary Flames porous defensive play of late.

They can be better.

They proved it.

They expect to prove it again.

"I really believe we're going to be much better in the next game," said goalie Miikka Kiprusoff after a quick practice session yesterday at Westside Recreation Centre.

That next game would be tomorrow's home-ice clash with the Colorado Avalanche in the first part of a home-and-home intra-divisional battle.

As bad as the Flames have been defensively over the past couple of weeks, they were outstanding just before the skid.

The same team torched for six goals against in three of the last four outings, including the most recent outing, a 6-1 debacle in San Jose, allowed only nine goals in total over their six-game winning streak.

Kiprusoff, who has a goals-against-average of 3.49 and .885 save percentage, posted a sparkling 1.50 average and .950 save percentage through that winning spree.

Only the Wall Street indexes have seen swings like that.

Amidst the doom and gloom that surrounds the Flames currently, with only two wins in their last seven outings, they have tangible proof their fortunes can turn drastically.

"We've already shown ourselves if we do work at that part of our game, pay a lot more attention to those details, we'll have more consistent success," said head coach Mike Keenan.

"We really moved in dramatic fashion defensively from giving up too many chances to nailing it down. When the team gets away from the defensive details, we give up too many chances and that's what's hurt us in the recent games."

They've spent the days since Thursday's debacle working to regain that formula.

"We've gone over everything," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "When we were successful, the shots against and the goals against were down to a manageable level. When we're beat badly and playing poorly, the shots against and chances against are up at a level you can't sustain through the whole season and have a competitive team.

"I don't think anyone would argue with you that we've played very poorly defensively. There's also been games we've won maybe because of a great individual effort or something along those lines, and those get covered up.

"Good teams, they don't have that high number of breakdowns in games. There's always going to be mistakes, but if you can minimize those mistakes, you can have guys cover you off, work together and get through it."

Good teams don't surrender four powerplay goals against, as was the case against San Jose.

Good teams don't give up 20 shots on goal in the first period, which also happened that night.

Good teams don't have a collective 3.44 goals-against-average, as is the case of Calgary's mark, only better than marks posted by Atlanta and Dallas.

Kiprusoff, who has been victimized by terrible play by his teammates, knows he's one of those most targeted for the woes and understands he must find his form as soon as possible.

"That's my job there, stopping pucks," he said.

"We want to be a better team, give up less scoring chances, but for me, my job is pretty simple. I worry about that most."

Which makes those recent outings in which he's been blitzed tough to take.

"You're a little bit upset. You go into every game to win and play well," he said.

"I watch it after and see what happened after the game. After that, it's easier to see what really happened and what I can do differently.

"You can't go too up or down, just be honest with yourself and work hard to get better."

The season isn't hanging in the balance, but they all know it's in their best interest to find that form immediately.

"Everyone knows we can do it. We've shown stretches of it," Regehr said. "It's just we haven't done it on a consistent basis, and that's probably the biggest thing for us.

"We need to be more disciplined that way."


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