SUN Hockey Pool

'Working out the kinks'

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

NEWARK, NJ -- Two straight losses to clubs sitting outside the playoff picture can bring about a reaction from the fans.

The Flames can understand a bit of panic on the snowy and cold streets of Calgary these days.

In the room?

"No, not yet, anyway," said defenceman Jim Vandermeer after yesterday's practice in preparation for tonight's clash with the New Jersey Devils.

"There's definitely concern, but we still know we're a good team. These kind of things happen. We lost a couple of guys and have to work some guys in, so I think it's working out the kinks.

"It'll take a bit of time, but to make it as short of a time as possible, we all have to bear down."

Bear down. Rev up.

Whatever you want to call it, the Flames need that done in a New York Minute.

Disappointing losses to the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers have put their seven-game road swing on ground as bumpy as the streets of Newark.

"You lose to a couple of teams that have worse records than us, it's going to spark some concern," said Flames defenceman Cory Sarich. "We definitely haven't done the things we needed to do, but I think it's been acknowledged we can play good hockey. It's just going out and applying yourself.

"It's like that four-game skid we had a while back. It happens to teams. You don't want it to, but we've got to go back to the basics again. I hate to call them wake-up calls, but they end up being that."

The last couple of games the Flames have needed somebody to set off an alarm. Either that, or to stop hitting the snooze button.

In Carolina, the Flames were dreadful to start before managing to gain some momentum, but a trio of late first-period goals spelled disaster.

Atlanta's performance was a case of falling behind twice in the opening period, being careless with the puck and defensively and then watching a 29th-place team pull away.

"Against Carolina, we actually were doing some good things," Sarich said. "But then, boom, in a matter of minutes, the game was over.

"Maybe that's not being mentally sharp, but it was the end of the first period and guys should be in the game by then. I think Kipper would want a goal or two back in the Atlanta game, but you can't lay blame on any one guy and you can't pinpoint it to one or two areas.

"I think we need all areas of our game to improve."

If they don't improve in a hurry, their date with the Devils will be a nightmare out of your worst horror movie.

Unless you're facing elimination, no game is a must-win, but a loss today would not be a good way to head to Detroit to face the defending Stanley Cup champs.

The Devils lead the Atlantic Division and have been very strong for the past few months, so tonight's clash will be a very tough task.

Maybe knowing the opposition is a top-tier club is the tonic the Flames need right now.

"Whenever you play top teams, your compete level automatically gets jacked up. It'll definitely help," Sarich said.

Based on the discussions around the locker-room, look for the Flames to be much more assertive than they've been in the past couple of outings, especially to start.

"To a man, each guy has to bring that extra little bit," Vandermeer said. "We've played really well for the first three-quarters of the season, built a little bit of a gap. Good thing we did, otherwise we'd be right back in the pack if we hadn't gotten that lead.

"We just have to make sure we do the things that make us a good team.

"We all have to play with a sense of urgency. These are huge games, and guys need to feel the importance of it and play like it. Every guy has to play the way we need in order to turn it around."


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