SUN Hockey Pool

Team well ahead of schedule

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

You'd think those loser points would soften the blow.

With time, maybe they do.

To walk into the Calgary Flames dressing room after the past couple of games, though, you can sense an overtime or shootout loss doesn't make much difference.

It's a defeat, and having now suffered three in a row, the Flames aren't too happy.

"I don't think shootout and overtime losses are considered moral victories for this team," said forward Michael Cammalleri. "We expect more than that."

As they should. Much more.

Yesterday was a recovery day for the Flames, a chance to dig out from Friday's storm that blanketed the city in snow and sent it into a deep freeze.

It was also an opportunity to recharge from a busy week -- four games in six nights -- and think about how the last couple of games got away from them.

Wednesday in Detroit, it was a blown two-goal, third-period lead that eventually ended up a 4-3 overtime loss. Friday was a 3-2 shootout defeat against a Florida team that is on top of its game, but still was playing for the second time in as many nights and will be in a struggle to become a playoff squad.

Blown opportunities? You bet.

"I hate to say games are getting away from us," Cammalleri said. "We put ourselves in a good position to win."

But didn't, and now the club is on its longest swoon so far this year.

Still, it's no time to panic. Sure, there are problems still yet to solve.

The club's powerplay, shall we say lack of power, has sputtered.

Defensively, they've been better since that dreadful early November stretch, but not as air-tight as needed when it comes down to crunch time. Want proof? In the last four games, the Flames have surrendered an average of 32.5 shots against.

Plus, all too often the best line continues to be the units involving Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque on the wings, which happens to be the third line.

The top guns -- Jarome Iginla, Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi and Daymond Langkow -- simply haven't been good enough, especially during five-on-five play.

Still, it's not even close to panic-button time. As bad as it is, the Flames have plenty to be excited about as they've reached the 30-game mark.

This team was advertised to be better from what we saw in 2007-08, and has been.

In fact, it has been better by a considerable margin.

Through 30 games last season, the Flames were struggling below the .500 mark, with a 12-13-5 record, a dreadful powerplay (15.9%) and even more disappointing penalty kill (78%).

Heading into Tuesday's clash in St. Louis, the Flames are six points ahead of last year's pace with a 16-11-3 mark, have an improved man-advantage rate (19%) despite the recent struggles and done an excellent job on the penalty kill (85.2% ranked them fourth in the league heading into yesterday's action).

The way head coach Mike Keenan sees it, a little rest will do them a world of good. After a quick two-game road trip which also includes Minnesota, the Flames have a season-long six-game homestand over two weeks.

"Your schedule can be and often is your best friend. Or not," he said after Friday's defeat.

Case in point, having to play so quickly after a tough road trip, mostly in terms of late-night arrivals. An extra day before facing Florida, in his mind, would have meant a world of difference.

"I think our guys were fairly focused, paying attention to it, but it's the time of year a lot of families have family in town and there are preoccupations," he said.

"We have a lot of players with a lot of young children, and those little people don't care if their father plays hockey or not.

"They want to see their father, be with their father, and rightfully so. And the fathers want to see their children.

"It's not a preoccupation, but it gets you out of your routine. I can't disagree with little people."


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