SUN Hockey Pool

Flames return to job

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

The rest time is now officially over.

The Calgary Flames must now prove their breather will mean a change.

"We needed these practices," said centre Craig Conroy after the tune-up for tonight's clash with the Colorado Avalanche.

"We changed some things defensively. We'll see if you see the differences."

That should be easy, at least when looking at the big picture.

The Flames, who had four non-game days after their 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, have fallen near the bottom of the league in goals-against, in large part because they've surrendered six tallies in three of their last five games.

A renewed commitment to defence has been the rallying point over the past few days.

"When we had the (six-game winning streak), it was all about our defence, not anything else but defence," said head coach Mike Keenan. "It's about the consistency, the work ethic and the due diligence you need to stay on top of that part of your game.

"When you don't have the practice time or as much practice time as you'd like, you might get off that a bit."

Or, at least in this team's case, a lot.

The Flames have won only twice in seven games since their winning spree. They surrendered only nine goals in that successful six-game run, but in the seven games since, they have allowed 31.

Because of those follies, a mini-vacation and team party in San Jose was cancelled.

Instead of R'n'R, the players had an extra day of video and ice time.

The message had better have sunk in. Lord knows, they'd like to turn the page and begin moving forward.

"It's a new segment of games, and guys are sick and tired of getting crapped on by people," said left-winger Rene Bourque.

"The guys in this room have to be upset, care a little more. We care, but some of the stuff we're doing on the ice wasn't showing it."

Physically, they've had plenty of opportunity to regroup. As much as fans don't want to hear it, fatigue had to be a factor. This is a team that played eight games in 13 days in four different time zones over three different road trips.

Even though they didn't get that one extra off day, Bourque said the Flames have refreshed and are now champing at the bit.

"It's nice to have time off, but at the same time, you don't know what to do with yourself after four days between games," he said.

"It was good for our team to work on things in practice, and I think the guys will be raring to go. We got embarrassed the other night, and we're pretty good at home.

"The next two games are big for us. Everybody in the division is so close, and we're in eighth spot in the conference. You lose a couple of games like this, you'll slide in the standings, and we don't want to do that."

Actually, this is the beginning of an important spell of games. Four of their next six outings are against fellow Northwest Division foes. This week's slate features back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche, and next week features a home-and-home with the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's not only the competition amongst your divisional rivals, but it's the points that you give and take away from each other," Keenan said.

So far this season, the Flames have taken everything from the Avs, winning both encounters.

Divisional battles still have extra importance, so that could mean the visitors will have a little extra motivation.

Then again, the Flames are still smarting from Thursday's debacle in San Jose.

"They might have something to be gritty about, too, but if you saw our last game, there's some emotion there, too," Cory Sarich said.


Photos