SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter's game plan not an easy one for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

CALGARY — We’ve all spoken words we wish we hadn’t.

You say something spiteful or stupid.

Or a joke bombs worse than a cheesy comedian’s efforts on amateur night.

You say something that is a textbook example for the phrase: “better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

By now means do we think Flames head coach Brent Sutter is a fool, but he must be wishing he could take back those glowing words of praise after watching his team go through its struggles the last couple of weeks.

It was in anticipation of the Flames game against the Los Angeles Kings two weeks ago, and Sutter was feeling so good about his team.

The Flames had come off a solid win over the San Jose Sharks and heading into the final game of a six-game road trip, and Sutter had reason to relish the situation and praise his squad.

“We’re finding our way about what we are as a team,” he said at the time. “This is what I wanted to see us start becoming. From the first day of training camp, you have a vision of what your team has to be like. You visualize what your team needs to be and how we have to play. This is the way I visualized this team.

“When that time was going to come and we’d figure out as a team what we are about, I didn’t know, but these last games have shown us.”

Unfortunately for him and the Flames, their fortunes have gone south ever since.

Starting with a 2-1 loss in Los Angeles Dec. 7, the Flames have limped along to a 2-4-1 record.

As bad as the wins and losses have added up in the time being — which has caused the Flames to fall from battling for top spot in the Western Conference to sixth place and not far ahead of ninth spot — it’s how the Flames have performed since that day which is cause for alarm.

The Flames' game plan under Sutter is not easy. It requires much more pursuit than the style of play in years past, and more attention to detail defensively than what we’ve witnessed in these parts the past couple of seasons.

Plus, it’s mentally taxing, since so much is predicated on positioning.

When the Flames are on their game, as was the case through most of November and that outing in San Jose, it all falls into place.

When they’re not, though, which we’ve seen through pretty much all of December, they look out of sync.

Think of the way the St. Louis Blues had a step on the Flames in last week’s 4-3 loss. Or the way Colorado was by far the better team through the first two periods of the 3-2 game just over a week ago. Or how Minnesota was motoring all over the ice, especially on the forecheck, in the Wild 2-1 overtime game before that.

In Saturday afternoon’s 5-3 loss to Nashville, it was a case of seemingly every mistake ending up in the Calgary goal, while their glorious chances just went wide of an open cage.

That kind of turn of events is often a byproduct of not being sharp enough physically or mentally.

In short, not at all what the squad looked like before its struggles began this month.

The good news for the Flames is they have three days for pure practice over the next six, even with a couple of days off for Christmas break.

That means the chance to regroup and reacquaint themselves with how they must play to pull out of their skid.

For more than a month, they were on the mark with what Sutter was aiming for, and he said as much.

So, they all know what it takes to play the system to a “T” and the results that will bring.

For some reason, though, too many elements have gone missing.

You know Sutter would love to praise his charges again. The fact is, he’s more of a players’ coach than people realize.

He just likely won’t readily verbalize it to the world.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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