SUN Hockey Pool

Flames keep space in tight conference

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Their situation is not as dire.

The Calgary Flames playoff hopes are not living and dying with every result heading down the stretch like their divisional counterparts.

But tonight's encounter with the Edmonton Oilers is just as important to the Northwest Division leaders, who are looking to maintain that buffer between themselves and those treading water.

"You have to guard against complacency, we just went through a little stretch where we lost four in a row," said Flames assistant coach Rich Preston. "Obviously you want to get as much of a spread as you can on the teams behind you in the standings.

"But Vancouver is playing awfully well right now and Edmonton has been playing well despite losing their last two games. These teams are fighting tooth and nail, everybody is fighting for those playoff spots."

So far the Flames have the luxury of being able to witness the dogfight from a distance.

Heading into today, they are eight points up on the Canucks and 12 better than the Oilers, well away from the danger zone.

REST OF PACK

Yet another short losing skid, combined with an opponent's winning streak could easily have them back with the rest of the pack.

"It's amazing at this time of the year just how tight it is in the conference," Preston said. "Every game is so important and so we have to look at it as though every game is like a playoff game."

Heading down the stretch the playoff contenders are starting to spread themselves out.

At one point, just a couple of wins separated fifth and 15th place in the conference.

There are still 10 teams within nine points of each other in the standings and only the Colorado Avalanche appear to be falling off the pace.

"Anytime you're playing teams in your division, it's important to get that spread," said Flames winger James Vandermeer.

"Right now we've had a couple of injuries and we're not sure what kind of effect that's going to have, but you have to get points where you can get them."

Lately the Flames have done a good job of collecting points.

They've managed at least a point in their last six games following their four-game losing skid.

On Thursday they pulled out an overtime win on the road against the Minnesota Wild, they've also skated past the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens while earning an overtime point and shootout point in losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Canucks respectively.

A BUFFER

"After losing those four straight, we talked about different things and why we were losing and I think we're starting to get back on track," Vandermeer said. "We're starting to do the things that we need to do again."

Having a buffer in the standings allows the Flames to work on certain aspects of their game. Currently, the power play has been a source of concern as has the fact they've given up two short-handed goals in their past two games and have conceded 13 this season.

"That's a stat that's kind of embarrassing when you look at it," Preston said.

"That's not acceptable on the power play. You could have a power play that's going at 20%, but when you give up as many short-handed goals as that and you subtract those goals, then your power play doesn't look that good. That's something we've talked about and bit us in the butt all year.

"Those are killer goals, they're momentum-swinging goals and they get the other teams fired up, especially if they happen in key points of the game, so that's something that we have to pay attention to."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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