Flames work out the kinks

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

After a disappointing road trip, the Calgary Flames wasted no time getting back to work.

Taking Sunday off to recover, the players were tested physically by head coach Mike Keenan yesterday during a fast-paced practice at the Westside Recreation Centre while the Saddledome was being put back together after the Brier.

"We needed to get back to work. We need practice time, and we also have to give our fitness levels a little bit of a boost because of the fatigue in travel," said Keenan, whose Flames host the Dallas Stars tomorrow night.

"The best way to recover is to get back to work.

"It was a good push."

Another push -- this one mental -- is coming from the Vancouver Canucks.

Sitting just five points behind the Flames atop the Northwest Division, the Canucks have won 14 of 18 games since February to close the gap on their rival.

It could be just the kind of motivation to help the Flames bounce back from the 3-4 record they posted on their recent road swing.

"I think it could push us a little more," said winger Curtis Glencross, who has joined the top line alongside Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla.

"They're definitely coming right behind us, and they've got that game in hand on us. It'll be nice to get a little pressure from behind."

One of the most upsetting aspects of the seven-game Eastern road swing were the losses to non-playoff teams in Atlanta and Toronto.

Like the brutal 8-6 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in their last home game before the two-week trek, the Flames were missing desperation in their game.

If they want to keep their hold on the Western Conference's third seeding by virtue of a division title, they'll have to discover that down the stretch.

"I think it adds some urgency," said winger Michael Cammalleri.

"The standings and the way Vancouver's been playing will add some urgency to our team right now -- and I don't think that's a bad thing."

Watching the 11-point gully between them turn to the five-point fissure it is now can't be their primary concern, says associate coach Jim Playfair.

"We're in a position now where what was an 11-point cushion is a five-point cushion. We're well aware of that, but it's something that's out of our control," he said.

First on their minds is getting back to the defensive game they will need heading into the playoffs.

"Our focus is to win our division, and we want to win with a real strong team game," Playfair said.

"That's the No. 1 priority for our group is to get a lot better defensively, collectively. It's not just the goaltender or just the defencemen, it's an identity issue. We believe strongly that that's how you win, especially this time of year. It's about being a lot better defensively."

Allowing an average of nearly five goals against over their last eight games is a startling statistic. They've won just three of them.

"It's disappointing," said Cammalleri of the team's defensive effort. "It's not how we're going to win down the stretch. It's not conducive for this team's success at all."


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