Flames fighting for consistency

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

This is not where the Calgary Flames were supposed to be.

Going into the season, they were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western conference.

They were pegged as Stanley Cup contenders.

The parade route was already being planned.

But heading into last night's game against the Oilers, the Flames were clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference, having lost three straight and six of their last seven.

"When you see our conference, it's a very tight conference," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter.

"I've had a good opportunity to evaluate over the 30-plus games where we're at as a team.

"We know that we need to be better and there are areas where we need to get a lot better at and that's certainly what we're looking at.

"I don't like to get into too much detail, because it's things that are deep-rooted and ones that we continue to work on, on a daily basis. We're sorting through this right now.

"I don't know if frustration is the word, but it is concerning for me and we're dealing with it."

The Flames started the season strong, winning seven of their first 10 games.

They then went on a four-game winning streak which had them battling for top spot in the conference.

December has not been a good month for Calgary, however, as the Flames have had trouble stringing victories together.

On Sunday, they were embarrassed 5-1 at home by the Vancouver Canucks.

"You have to look at what causes inconsistencies," Sutter said.

"There are reasons why that happens and you have to deal with those reasons. When you deal with those reasons, they get rectified and the inconsistency will get out of your game."

As has always been the case with the Flames, they'll only go as far as Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff take them.

This year, however, the two stars were supposed to have a better supporting cast.

The addition of Jay Bouwmeester bolstered an already strong defensive group.

Up front, Olli Jokinen was expected to form a formidable tandem with Iginla.

It hasn't quite worked out that way, with Jokinen having scored just seven goals going into last night.

Rene Bourque is second in team scoring with 28 points on the year.

"On paper we look like a good team, but the way we've been playing lately, obviously we haven't been," Bourque said.

"But it's up to the guys in the room to play together and play the way we're capable of playing.

"We know we have a good team in here and it's just a matter of putting it all together. We've shown it in stretches this year, but we haven't done it consistently."

Not particularly the most charming group to start, with the likes of Sutter and Dion Phaneuf walking around the Calgary dressing room like they're about to punch someone in the face, the scowls have been particularly evident lately.

Even Iginla had his game face on following yesterday's morning skate.

"Nobody is happy right now, as players and as a coaching staff," said the Calgary captain. "We're going through a tough stretch right now and everyone is being challenged and everyone is expected to do more.

"It's definitely intense right now -- and it should be. We have to work hard to find our edge and get back to building towards getting our game back in order."

Iginla is doing his part.

Before last night, he had 20 goals and 38 points. He's on his way toward another 50-goal season.

However, he alone has not been able to lift his team to the heights predicted every season since making it to the Stanley Cup five years ago.

The Flames have not won a playoff series since.

"We know how close things are, we know we're a better team than what we're playing right now," Iginla said.

"It's a fine line when you look at how many teams are in the hunt in the conference. It's been a tough stretch for us and we have to get it back going the other way.

"Every night if you're not winning, you're losing ground and there are so many other teams that want it and they're hungry and we have to make sure we have that edge and play with that desperation."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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