SUN Hockey Pool

Not two worry, Flames fans

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Two straight defeats.

Sounds bad, doesn't it? Maybe because the Calgary Flames and their fans have forgotten what it's like to lose.

Until this weekend's setbacks on consecutive nights, the Flames hadn't lost two straight games in regulation in more than two months.

You have to go further back than the mid-November disaster in San Jose to find them.

With that in mind, dropping games at home to Phoenix Saturday and the next night in Denver is not the end of the world.

Amidst the disappointment of Sunday's 6-2 thumping in Colorado, the Flames weren't near panic mode.

"It's pretty fresh right now, but I don't think there'll be too much concern of a skid for this group," said left-winger Michael Cammalleri.

"We've got two days and one more (game) to blow it out before the (all-star) break.

"I'm sure once this settles in for a few minutes we'll all be excited for the next one."

Yesterday's day off was a chance to recover physically and mentally.

Today will begin by gearing up for tomorrow night's clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets, after which all but captain Jarome Iginla will enjoy a breather. Iginla is the lone player headed to Montreal for the festivities.

It's not time to fret for a team that's atop the Northwest Division with a solid 27-14-4 record and eight points ahead of the field.

Still, when the Flames meet for practice today at the Saddledome, it will be time for a refresher.

Losing back-to-back games shouldn't send out full-scale alarms, but should bring forward a few problems to address. Probably the biggest culprit in losses to the much-improved Coyotes and middling Avalanche was taken care of by avoiding the Saddledome yesterday.

Many of the mistakes and pitfalls in those defeats can be attributed to fatigue.

The sharpness displayed during the excellent run of games -- 18-4-3 -- simply wasn't there.

Passes were off the mark. Defensive coverage was below expectations.

Even goaltending wasn't up to snuff -- when do you see Miikka Kiprusoff beat on a shot from the corner like he was on Saturday?

A bit can be blamed on a letdown following Thursday night's emotionally charged 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks, and a bit can be attributed to the tough travel that followed.

Rest can't be understated.

But the Flames have other aspects to work on before facing the Blue Jackets and then the post-all-star game schedule.

Just to name a few ...

- Penalties: They weren't back to their old tricks of sending one player after another to the penalty box, but too many ill-timed and careless infractions played havoc on their comeback hopes in both games.

Rene Bourque's third-period tripping call against Phoenix came with four minutes remaining and the club gaining momentum to score the equalizer. It was also about 180 feet from the Flames goal. David Moss (high sticking) and Adrian Aucoin (cross-checking) were in the sin bin Sunday when Colorado scored key goals.

- Stars out of alignment: Iginla's goal-scoring struggles -- two goals in 14 games -- is not the problem. He's too good a player for that to drag on. The problem is the lack of scoring chances. In recent games, Iginla hasn't even had much of a sniff. It's hard to remember the last time he made a powerful drive to the net from the side boards, or eluded a defenceman with his feet.

He's not the only big-ticket player struggling. Defenceman Dion Phaneuf isn't dishing out big hits -- at least he's not putting himself out of position to do it -- nor scoring goals. Without those attributes, the holes in his game have become highly visible.

Defensively, minus-9 is not acceptable. Even more alarming was the lack of determination on his part for a couple of goals.

One Western Conference team's pro scout said Phaneuf has looked "aloof" in a handful of games he watched this season. Maybe it's time to take his ice time down a few minutes per game, at least until he finds his form.

- Shorthanded goals: Calgary's special teams have been good, but nine times they have been victimized when on the powerplay. Goalie Curtis McElhinney took responsibility for Ryan Smyth's game-winner Sunday, but it's not his fault Smyth came down the ice untouched on a two-on-one.

- Motivation: Barring a complete collapse by San Jose and/or Detroit -- very unlikely -- or an incredible surge by one of the other Northwest teams, the Flames are sitting in no-man's land. They won't likely climb from the third seed in the Western Conference, and probably are too good to fall behind a divisional foe.

They are staring at a mettle test, to keep pushing themselves without somebody breathing down their neck.

Cammalleri is planning to use the hope Detroit isn't too far ahead, 10 points, with 37 games remaining.

"I don't think it's unrealistic," he insisted. "Is it realistic for teams in our division to catch us? It's kinda the same way. Some things have to go right and we play them twice, so there's no reason not to push for it. Pushing for that will make us a better team and some motivation we can use.

"Whether it happens or not, it can only help our position down the road."


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