SUN Hockey Pool

Flames fast start distant memory

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Sitting second in the Northwest Division after a Halloween loss ended the first month of their NHL season, the Calgary Flames find themselves seventh in the Western Conference and barely treading water above a hungry school of sharks eager to bump them from the top eight.

There was plenty to take pride in over the first 31 days of the campaign.

Tying a franchise-best start with a 7-2-1 record over the opening 10 games, it was hard to fault the team for niggly details like a ballooning goals-against average and a tendency to take leads for granted.

Losing their last two of five home games in 20 nights did nothing to keep fans confident, however.

For every positive, from Rene Bourque's great start to Miikka Kiprusoff's impressive outings, there seems to be a negative.

Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen continue to struggle, and a team dedicated to bringing down its GAA hasn't come close to improving on the three per game it allowed a year ago.

With things about to kick into high gear for the Flames, who have games crammed together just about every second night this month, let's take a look back at what they accomplished in October.

THE GOOD

If Kiprusoff isn't the team's most valuable player for the opening month, it's Rene Bourque.

Sniping five goals and 15 points over the first dozen games, the Lac La Biche product has easily been the Flames' most dominant forward so far this season. He's driving pucks to the net, throwing his weight around, and is a constant threat to score with a man-advantage or while shorthanded.

It was his hard work that led to Daymond Langkow's lone goal in the 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night, and the potential unrestricted free agent is even earning some looks from Team Canada brass after being omitted from the Olympic summer camp in Calgary.

Kiprusoff's numbers -- aside from his seven victories -- don't do his performance justice. A 3.00 GAA and .901 save percentage are less key than some of the clutch saves he's made in third periods with the team hanging onto a lead.

A strong powerplay early in the season has the Flames tied for third with a 27.9% success rating.

Secondary scoring has been another incredible storyline early this season.

Only three regulars are still without a score -- Craig Conroy, Cory Sarich and Robyn Regehr.

It's the relatively silent stars who top the list of what's going badly for the Flames this season ...

THE BAD

Iginla and Jokinen were expected to be a dynamic duo in their first full season together on the top line.

Now, they're not even together.

Split up after failing to find chemistry as a tandem, and struggling to fit into Brent Sutter's system as individuals, they haven't shown signs of being the team's best players.

Three of Iginla's nine points came in one evening, and Jokinen has just one assist in his last five games.

Not taking enough shots has been a team-wide issue -- they've outshot the opposition just twice this season.

THE UGLY

Forget about the five-goal collapse in Chicago, if you can.

Clearly the low point of the month, that loss to the Blackhawks wasn't nearly as disturbing as the fact the Flames failed to take advantage of five games at home to close out October, with plenty of practice time in between.

Going 3-2 over that period leaves you wondering what's to come in a month of November that has them playing 10 of 14 games on the road.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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