Flames stick to the plan

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

By now, those cancelled days off in San Jose are a forgotten memory for the Calgary Flames.

It might be worth reminding themselves what the problems were at the time, so they don't miss out again on a good time.

Remember back in the middle of November? The plan at the end of a busy schedule was for a couple of days worth of R'n'R in the Bay Area. But a 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the San Jose Sharks kiboshed wine tasting, Alcatraz tours and team dinners.

Instead, the Flames returned to Calgary ahead of schedule, worked to put their game in order and focused for the task at hand before the season potentially spun out of control.

Since that vacation became a mini-training camp, they've looked like a completely different team.

Winning five of six games made yesterday's "recovery day" all the more enjoyable before preparing for tomorrow's date with the Dallas Stars.

More importantly, it's how the Flames have swung their fortunes: Much improved defence.

"Having spoken out about it a little bit in the past, I'm very happy as a defenceman to see how far we've come in the last few games," blueliner Robyn Regehr said after Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. "I'm also very excited to see where we can go."

Time will only tell whether the Flames ride this momentum to their goals -- a Northwest Division title and a Stanley Cup.

In the meantime, they can relish in a job well done turning around the NHL season.

After winning only two of seven games, the Flames have rebounded by shutting down the opposition.

In the last half-dozen games, they've surrendered a total of 12 goals -- five of which, including an empty-netter, came in a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings that was closer than the score made it out to be, since it was tied 2-2 with nine minutes left.

They surrendered more than double that number in the previous seven games.

"Since then, guys have been playing the system, and you see it works," said Flames right winger David Moss. "If you want to, call it the trap or whatever, it doesn't matter, but it certainly creates more offence.

"When everyone's on the same page like that, it makes a world of difference. You can tell we're giving up less shots and getting more opportunities, and we're staying out of the (penalty) box more."

Before a home-and-home sweep of the Colorado Avalanche that started this run, the Flames were the NHL's most penalized team and faced the second most shorthanded situations.

In the last six games, they've been shorthanded a grand total of 14 times. They've killed all those penalties, too.

The shot clocks have tilted in their favour, too. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has faced six fewer shots per game since his teammates decided to help more in their own zone.

"We realize how good our goaltender is, and we might as well play a style that lets him be as good as he is," said forward Michael Cammalleri. "We're trying to allow him to make the saves we know he's going to make and take some of the Grade-A chances out.

"We're making it harder for their top players to score, and it seems to be working out."

Both wins against the Canucks were also examples of staying with the program when times were tough.

On Thursday, the Flames trailed by a goal late in the second period.

Previous such situations resulted in one-sided defeats because their defensive-zone play went by the wayside in the hopes of scoring goals.

By staying with the game plan, the Flames managed a comeback in Vancouver.

On Saturday night, the Flames kept playing the same way when Canucks goalie Cory Schneider was making great saves, not becoming frustrated, and eventually they broke down the wall.

"It's an aggressive patience," Cammalleri said. "We want to stick to it and not try and push ourselves out of good habits. By keeping going like that, we're confident we'll eventually break a goalie and get the goals we need to win.

"Maybe we don't score in the first 10 minutes, but eventually our play gets us chances and we start burying them."

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THEN AND NOW

COLD: Nov. 2-13

Record: 2-5

Goals for: 18 (2.57 average)

Goals against: 31 (4.43 average)

Powerplay: 6-for-34 (17.6%)

Penalty kill: 27-for-33 (81.8%)

Shots for: 196 (28 average)

Shots against: 221 (31.6 average)

HOT: Nov. 18-29

Record: 5-1

Goals for: 20 (3.33 average)

Goals against: 12 (2.00 average)

Powerplay: 6-for-34 (17.6%)

Penalty kill: 14-for-14 (100%)

Shots for: 216 (36 average)

Shots against: 151 (25.2 average)


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