That's four for the Flames, but skipper is positive

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

The sign that lights up didn't display the result Mike Keenan and the Calgary Flames were looking for.

Signs the Flames head coach wanted on the ice, though, were in his sight.

As everyone sifted through the ashes of yesterday's 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, Keenan insisted his team's fourth consecutive defeat was a step forward.

Amidst the slump that has the faithful fearful of the team's perch atop the Northwest Division, Keenan was optimistic.

"You're never as good as you think you are and never as bad as you think you are, and when you're a good team it's your ability to stop the slides when they come," Keenan said. "They can take on a life of their own, but as long as you're working and you're diligent at applying yourself to the system we're trying to play, you'll get results.

"I would think you saw them today. We played a lot tighter game. We lost the three games prior to today because of loose defence. We weren't that loose.

"An individual made a poor play at the end of the (second) period, and that's not really a group, symptomatic problem. We're overcoming some of those group problems."

OK, some. Maybe even the biggest.

Defensively, the Flames were the best they'd been in more than a week.

The Ducks took advantage of two horrible defensive-zone giveaways -- Dion Phaneuf's on the opening goal five minutes into the tilt and Adam Pardy's gaffe in the waning seconds of the middle period that led to Corey Perry's winner.

Other than that, the Ducks couldn't get much going.

Save for an early second-period powerplay when back-up goalie Curtis McElhinney came up with five stops, the visitors didn't generate any consistent offence.

That was the one element the Flames could hang their hats on after giving away their sweaters to the lucky chosen few from the sold-out Dome crowd.

"This game was a lot closer to the style we want to play," insisted captain Jarome Iginla. "At the same time, we're not feeling good. Hey, teams are close, it's a fine line. You're playing other teams just as desperate, so you have to find that edge to out-compete them. When we were winning, when we were rolling, we were doing that."

It's key to find the positives when times are tough.

And right now, it's tough in Flamesland. The last time the club lost this many in a row was November 2007, a five-game swoon.

Then again, this team is better than last year's squad. The record proves it. As does the edge on their division.

Four straight losses for this squad feels like 40.

"We're feeling it," Iginla said. "We want to get back to winning. We know the standings. This game, there were some good things more consistently from what we did earlier, and we were a little bit better as far as the discipline and the structure of what we're trying to do, but we're still trying to find that edge to do it over a full 60.

"We saw it today and more consistently. We weren't terrible, but it's not about not being terrible. It's about being good and we're going to dig ourselves out of this. Every team goes through it. It's all momentum, you build it and get it going our own way."

Momentum yesterday was as precious as a money- generating stock.

Whether you wan to blame it on the afternoon start time or a tightness from losing three straight, the Flames didn't build anything resembling momentum for the first half of yesterday's game.

Defensively, they may have been better, but when it came to offensive pressure, Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere spent more time slurping from his water bottle than turning aside scoring chances.

Too many passes were nowhere close, too many Flames were on their heels, and too many shots whistled high or wide.

Keenan insisted his charges aren't running short on urgency, but it didn't arrive until the third period, mainly the final minutes after the Flames frittered away a golden powerplay opportunity in the middle of the frame.

"We weren't good enough," said Phaneuf, who was willing to take some heat. "From start to finish, starting with myself with a turnover that can't happen early. It definitely wasn't the effort we needed or were looking for today.

"Like we said before, whether you're winning or losing, you've got move forward, learn from your mistakes or doing well, because the schedule is that tight."

And getting tighter.

Sure, the rest of the Northwest Division doesn't seem capable of catching the Flames, but if this swoon goes on longer, you never know.

"Teams go through it," Iginla said. "But the best teams make it as short as possible.

"Four is enough."


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