Loss to Stars takes shine off Flames' fast start

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:36 PM ET

It may have been the fact the Calgary Flames played the night before, so they were tired.

Or, it could have had something to with the opposition -- the Dallas Stars -- hardly being a rival.

Either way, Friday night's game at the Saddledome showed the early season excitement has dissipated.

Which means now we'll start to really see what the Flames are all about, starting with tomorrow night's clash in Chicago.

Remember the Blackhawks? The team that snuffed the Flames' playoff hopes in a first-round series that was more one-sided than the six games it took?

Revenge isn't on their minds, the Flames insist.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing. It's gonna be a big road game from us," said Flames forward Rene Bourque. "We want to be playing well on the road."

Actually, head coach Brent Sutter doesn't care where his team is playing well. It's not happening up to standard yet.

As happy as he is about the team's strong start -- four wins in five outings -- it's just a step. All kinds of aspects aren't in sync yet.

"There's things to work on. I've said that since Day 1," Sutter said after his team fell Friday to the Stars 5-2. "This is a team that's still in the process of learning how to play without the puck and learning how to play with it, making smart decisions.

"Things don't happen overnight. We've been able to find ways to win going through it and had spurts, so we've been able to win games because of those spurts.

"We don't want to be a team that has spurts. We want to be a team that's consistent shift-in and shift-out, period-to-period, where we know what we're about and what our identity is about. We're a team that's still a work in progress where details to our game continue to need to get better."

In so many ways.

Don't let goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff's 2.95 goals-against average fool anybody. His play in crunch time was a big factor in all four victories.

Defensively, it's a squad still surrendering too many shots and too often lacking focus in the final minutes of periods.

That's a team-wide epidemic.

Individually, mostly all of the core players are not in their groove.

First-liners Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen have accounted for one goal and are a combined minus-5. Neither has a single point during five-on-five play. Jokinen hasn't scored in 18 straight regular-season games.

The pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr appears to be a chemistry experiment gone awry. There's no other way to put it when a duo, which is looking to be part of Canada's Olympic team, is a combined minus-10.

Those four players are supposed to be the leaders.

Then again, everybody had a rough night Friday.

"We lost one of our first five (games), and it's not like the guys didn't go out there and care," Sutter said. "They wanted to win. Things just didn't happen. We were just sloppy. We need to continue to work on that."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA

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RANDY SPORTAK

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