GM frustrated over defence

The source Darryl Sutter's disenchantment has little to do with the team's recent record or the...

The source Darryl Sutter's disenchantment has little to do with the team's recent record or the fragile state of his club's lead in the NHL's Northwest Division. (CALGARY SUN/Darren Makowichuk)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

Darryl Sutter is disappointed alright.

But the source of his disenchantment has little to do with the team's recent record or the fragile state of his club's lead in the NHL's Northwest Division.

And it certainly has nothing to do with coach Mike Keenan, who's being singled out by an increasing number of fans as the scapegoat for the team's recent shortcomings.

"Oh, just get at 'er," said the Flames GM sarcastically, when asked what he'd say to those calling for Keenan's head.

"Last week, it was Kipper. The week before, it was Dion. Before that, it was Cammy. And before that, it was Jarome. When you have that many star players and that high-profile a coach publicly, you should have those expectations."

What he isn't laughing off is the spate of injuries his club has been dealing with the last five weeks and the fact his pre-season directive to finish top-five in goals surrendered has been ignored by his veteran-laden lineup.

"I'm most disappointed in two things: One is the injuries -- they really bother me," said Sutter, relieved Todd Bertuzzi and Daymond Langkow recently returned to a lineup still missing Rene Bourque and Mark Giordano.

"Second, the goals against. Top five is a lofty goal to set -- the toughest part of it all is getting everyone to buy into it. Thankfully, we have the offence."

Currently ranked 25th in the loop with an average of 3.05 goals surrendered per game, the high-flying Flames have completely abandoned the defence-first system Sutter implemented when he coached the squad up until three years ago. That's almost a goal-per-game more than the top-ranked Boston Bruins. No other team ranked worse than 21st in the category is playoff-bound.

But the big problem his team is having now is much broader than that.

"I just think our top players all at once aren't playing very well," said Sutter, whose club lost seven of its last 10 games before last night.

"We're sort of in a position where we're comfortable with a playoff spot and everyone else is playing and fighting like hell to get one. If our top guys get back to playing, we'll stay in first place."

What was once a 13-point lead on the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest crown was chipped down to one before last night's game against the Minnesota Wild, jeopardizing home-ice advantage Sutter felt was the difference in last year's first-round exit to the San Jose Sharks.

Although he's surprised it's just a two-horse race in the once-tough division, he's not shocked or alarmed by the developments.

"Vancouver should close in -- they had key guys go down, and that's why they fell behind. But now, they're back, and we've had guys go down," Sutter said. "You've got to give our guys credit for staying in first place. We've done reasonably well. We've played without five players and been able to hold our position. You want to win the division because it's the easiest way to get home-ice advantage."

He sees no reason to panic as many Flames fans have throughout the club's recent struggles. Even the class of the West -- the Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings -- have had struggles of late.

"To be quite honest, our best game in March was in Pittsburgh," he said of Wednesday's 2-0 loss.

"We've got a goalie, strength down the middle, one of the best division records and a great home record."

And despite their defensive woes, they're fifth in goals scored (3.18 per game), thanks to the deepest roster the club has had in almost two decades.

"We'll be fine."


Videos

Photos