SUN Hockey Pool

Time to get this show goin' on road

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

No more Boston Gardens or Buffalo Auditoriums make it such a drastic change for visiting teams.

Nor exist any more Philadelphia Spectrums or Chicago Stadiums, loud and filled with fanatical supporters who put the fear of God in visiting players.

Over the years, NHL arenas have blended together. One multi-use facility looks like the other.

Dressing rooms which used to be cramped or dingy are all comfortable -- save for maybe Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena and its terrible quarters -- and the amenities make one city much like the next.

So, why do the Calgary Flames become the Mr. Hyde to their Dr. Jekyll persona while at the Saddledome?

It's a baffling problem that prompted GM Darryl Sutter to address the troops immediately after Tuesday night's 3-1 defeat in Dallas.

Granted, the Flames road woes aren't as dire as we saw a couple of seasons ago. Remember how the same group that won 30 games at home staggered like a punch-drunk boxer outside Calgary to a 13-20-8 mark?

At least this year's team can say the 11-11-1 record is .500, even though they've lost more games than they've won.

Still, as the Flames head down the stretch, it's obvious they must reverse that trend.

After their three-game homestand which begins tonight against Chicago, the Flames round out the regular season with 18 of 29 on the road. It's still enough time to become Mad Max-style road warriors, and Calgary's road schedule actually becomes easier in terms of the level of opposition. Of those final 19 road games, only two teams currently sit atop their division, New Jersey and Detroit, and only five games are against squads that can currently boast having won more games than they've lost.

Still, the Flames have key areas to change between now and the second week of April. Here's the list of four key pillars:

* Excuses: Stop making them. Sure, players become tired and they've had some tough road scheduling. That trip a few weeks ago -- in San Jose Thursday, home on Saturday and in Denver Sunday -- was truly tough. Same for the time-zone bouncing through the first couple of weeks of November.

But enough is enough. So you lost an hour via the time zone and puck dropped 23 hours in Dallas after it did the night before in Denver, that's the way it goes. Every team has horror stories when it comes to playing on the road. Good ones overcome them.

It's easy to call them reasons, but after the point has been made time and time again, it sounds like excuses. Don't give the players an out, and they won't look for it.

* Where's the scoring?: One player has tallied more often on the road than at home -- Daymond Langkow.

In 27 home games, the Flames have scored 100 goals, and average of 3.70. In 23 road games, they have 58 goals (2.52 per game). Defensively, the Flames aren't much different away from home, and that includes four road games in which they've surrendered six goals. The penalty killing is similar, too.

A stunning lack of offence is biting them.

Jarome Iginla, Todd Bertuzzi and Craig Conroy have split their goals evenly, but the fall-off from there is drastic.

Michael Cammalleri (only nine of 26 goals on the road), Rene Bourque (four of his 17), David Moss (four of 15), Dustin Boyd (two of eight) and Matthew Lombardi (none of his five) are not as effective on the road.

* Strategically leaning on Miikka: Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was excellent against Dallas Tuesday night. A weak game, and the Flames would have been blitzed. But it's high time the coaching staff ensure he's at his best for what will be tougher tasks.

The adage about not playing backup goalies at home is absurd. Why not start Curtis McElhinney at home against Nashville before going on the road? Or against Phoenix a couple of weeks ago when a trip to Denver immediately followed?

A fresher Kiprusoff could have made a difference. He wasn't sharp in Monday's loss to Colorado and a couple of clutch saves may have changed the fortunes.

First, challenge the players to come up with a top-performance to help earn McElhinney his first victory and then give them a sharper Kiprusoff when they need the boost his top-notch play can provide.

* Stick to the system: The road win over San Jose was a fantastic effort from all areas. Truth be told, the loss in Dallas wasn't that far off from a system standpoint. What's surrounded other games, however, hasn't been close.

Both outings in Colorado during this recent swoon looked like the Flames of a couple of seasons ago, a team that freelanced when things weren't going properly, wasn't generating anything of a consistent forecheck and wasn't tight defensively.

At their best, the Flames put opposition defencemen on their heels, knowing an assertive rush is coming. We've seen it at the Saddledome time and time again.

Similar to other key ingredients for success, that's been in short supply once they get off the plane.


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