Penalty woes big factor in downslide

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

To Wayne Primeau, most penalties are a double-edged sword.

When the Calgary Flames are shorthanded, it often means the fourth-line centre sees action as a key penalty killer.

But it also means his team is at a disadvantage, trying to stem the tide and not thinking of scoring themselves.

Lately, Primeau has spent too much time in that PK role.

"Yeah, it's ice time, but at the same time, when you're killing an average of six-and-a-half penalties in a game, it's bound to catch up to you," he said.

"We have to get away from taking those penalties. There are times you have to take them, but it's been too many."

When the Flames hit the ice for last night's clash against the Colorado Avalanche, they were the most penalized team in the league, averaging 20.3 minutes per game.

The Anaheim Ducks are the lone squad that's been assessed more minor penalties. The Ducks and Nashville Predators are the only teams that have been shorthanded more often.

The bloated goals-against total isn't the only statistic the Flames must address.

"You're not going to have success being the most penalized team in the league," said defenceman Cory Sarich. "It makes it tough on everybody. Your powerplay is not going to get as many opportunities, your penalty killing -- even if it is functioning well, you give up six-plus chances a night. The odds aren't in your favour.

"There are good penalties and not so good penalties, and we've taken too many we can do without."

Coaches can live with some penalties. Mike Keenan has seen far too many unnecessary infractions, especially of late.

"Our penalty killing has been fairly solid, with the exception of the last game, when we dropped in the standings quite a bit because of the four goals San Jose scoring against us," said Keenan.

"I would like us to get away from the penalties that don't involve stopping a goal or are 200 feet away from your goal -- the hooking, the holding, the tripping, and unnecessary calls because you're not moving your feet. Those penalties hurt you."

The pain inflicted is on so many levels.

In a perfect world, the Flames roll all four lines and all three sets of defencemen. The top line of Jarome Iginla, Todd Bertuzzi and Daymond Langkow would skate around 20 minutes per game, and always in a position to score.

Instead, Keenan's charges have spent too much time with the top line and depth players pinned to the pine.

"We just played 10 games in 17 nights, and if you're spending a lot of time in the penalty box, two things are being affected on our team," Keenan said. "One, the energy to deal with killing those penalties off (becomes used up) and, two, our top three players in our system -- Jarome, Todd and Daymond -- do not kill penalties, so that means they're sitting.

"That takes away the rhythm of the game."

The Flames have a reputation of being physical and aggressive, which can lead to more infractions.

Stil, there have been plenty of reminders over the past few days to start reducing the lazy and meaningless penalties.

"I think guys are pretty conscious of the problem, right now, and that's the first step," Sarich said. "We want to resolve the problem before it gets to the point where coaches have to point out how many of certain types guys have taken. It's on the guys' shoulders to move their feet more and use their sticks less."


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