Flames fans have seen this movie before

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Yes, Flames fans, you have seen this movie before.

The Slides of March.

An annual rite of spring -- and just as annoying as heavy snowfalls warnings, magpies in the backyard and American Idol -- the Flames once again are flickering down the stretch.

In this case, though, they've decided to take their struggles to a new low, losing eight of 13 games so far this month amidst a swoon that has them hanging onto their first-place perch in the division by their fingernails.

The post-lockout era has seen the Flames struggle at this point.

In 2005-06, it was a stretch with two wins in seven games. At least they pulled out of that swoon -- right about this time, too, it's worth noting -- to pull away and win the Northwest Division.

In 2006-07, a six-game winning streak was bookended by seven losses -- four to end the season -- before being smacked away by Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.

Last season, another 6-7-0 run ended the regular season.

Which makes you wonder who's to blame for the repeat performance that's grown as tiresome to witness as a Jason movie every Halloween.

It can't all be coaching, since this tradition has involved three different head coaches.

Pin this all on the players.

It's high time Calgary's leadership group took the bull by the horns. The theory of leadership by example doesn't hold water when those who are to be leading by example aren't doing enough themselves.

Captain Jarome Iginla has gone five games without a goal and not been the offensive catalyst of years past or strong enough defensively.

Alternate captain Dion Phaneuf's plus-minus speaks volumes.

Fellow alternate Robyn Regehr admitted he was playing awful recently -- we can give him marks for that, since a few more could place some problems on the man in the mirror -- while goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has been inconsistent, Michael Cammalleri is not scoring on the road (likewise for Dustin Boyd and David Moss) and Olli Jokinen isn't making it work with Iginla.

Teams will go through tough stretches and ups and downs, but four years in a row is a trend to be wary enough of something can be done.

The heat belongs to those in the dressing room.

Flaming C-notes

Who would have guessed six months ago losing Rene Bourque would have such an impact? In the 16 games since Bourque went down with a high-ankle sprain, Calgary's penalty kill has sputtered at a dismal 75.7% rate (it was at 85.7% before). That can't be all pinned on missing Bourque, but he was among their best on the PK. The lack of Bourque's second-line scoring has been noticeable ... Happy statistic courtesy radio play-by-play voice Peter Maher: The last time the Flames were shutout in consecutive games was November 2003, the same season the club went to the Stanley Cup finals. At this point, anything that can be spun into a positive is worth doing ... Both Iginla and Jokinen are shooters, and if they continue to struggle offensively, do you think we'll see Craig Conroy reunited with his good friend and Jokinen moved to a different line?

Hockey talky

Must be something about Alberta, because suddenly the Oilers are in a nose-dive, too, and in danger of missing the playoffs. Edmonton does have six straight at home after last night's clash in Anaheim, but it's hardly an easy schedule ... Wonder how much of Ray Emery's latest road incident -- caught speeding in his Hummer -- will affect his quest to sign with a NHL team for next season ... Have to agree with those who are pushing that all 14 non-playoff teams have an equal shot at the No.-1 draft pick after watching the Florida Panthers. Instead of trading away Jay Bouwmeester at the deadline for a boatload in return and tanking the season, the Panthers kept him and tried to make the playoffs. Should they fail, and it looks like they will, it would be good to see them rewarded instead of punished for trying to make the playoffs, unlike other teams ... It has to be a little unsettling attendance in Columbus for Thursday night's thrashing of the Flames was nearly 2,000 short of a sellout ... The Flames aren't the only team expecting to make waves in the playoffs but flickering down the stretch. Consider the words of Sharks captain Patrick Marleau: "Eight games is still a lot of games for us to get on track here and get back those good habits. We have it in us and we've just got to bring it back." San Jose is 6-6-2 starting with a Feb. 28 loss in Montreal ... Toronto's Curtis Joseph may not want to play all three games while Martin Gerber is suspended. Joseph headed into last night's clash against Buffalo with 350 NHL losses, two back of Gump Worsley for the NHL record. Gilles Meloche lost 351 games. Of course, Joseph is fourth in NHL history in wins (453 before puck drop).

You don't say

"It's the first step to getting somewhere, but it's not like we're going to pop open some champagne like a baseball team celebrating they made the playoffs. We've still got a lot of work to do."

-- New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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