SUN Hockey Pool

Calgary lacks killer instinct

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:15 PM ET

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames are capable of winning a game 2-1.

In fact, they can win quite of few games by that count, seven times this season plus a couple of more which became 3-1 thanks to an empty netter.

But they can’t win every game 2-1.

That’s a lesson which has to be hammered into the Flames if they expect to be a playoff squad this season.

As much as head coach Brent Sutter has instilled into his team they must be able to win those low-scoring, one-goal affairs, he can’t seem to get them to believe they can skate to larger margins of victory.

At least they don’t seem capable of doing that lately — unless they’re playing bottom feeders such as Edmonton or Carolina.

Calgary has been held to two or fewer goals in 14 of its last 18 games. Two of the exceptions in that stretch were the one-sided victories against the Hurricanes and Oilers.

Unless they turn that trend around in a hurry, the Flames will most likely end up on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Somehow, they have to more often break through the ceiling of two-goals-per-game.

“We’re trying. It’s not like we don’t want to score,” said left winger Eric Nystrom. “I’m trying as hard as I can to score, and I haven’t scored in forever. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s the hardest thing to do in the game.

“It’s not like we don’t want to score five or six, but those goals are elusive right now for us.”

Elusive?

Watching their recent three-game road trip — 2-1 win over Florida, 2-1 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, 3-2 loss to Ottawa — you’d think the Flames would have an easier time finding The Holy Grail than scoring three times in a game.

If they’re not being denied by great goaltending, they’re missing the target more often than the bad guys in a spaghetti western.

“It’s not like the chances aren’t there, just the puck hasn’t gone in the net for some reason. We’ve made some good pushes,” Sutter insisted. “I really can’t pinpoint why. The most important thing you’ve got to look at is ‘Are the chances still there?’ They have been.

“I don’t have an answer for that, but I look at our overall team game, and we’re getting the quality scoring chances and we’re keeping down the opposition’s quality scoring chances. When you can do that, you certainly should win games.”

Should being the optimum word.

Right now, the Flames aren’t winning games.

They have only four wins in those 18 games (4-10-4).

When they manage powerplay goals, the even-strength attack seems to disappear.

When they nab a couple of goals in five-on-five play, the powerplay goes dry.

Still, they’re not bringing the puck to the net often enough — opting to cycle between the half-wall and end boards too many times — and not bearing down on the chances when they do come.

The lack of goals is starting to wear on everyone, whether they’re a star like Jarome Iginla expected to light the lamp or a role player.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world. You go to the front of the net and get a rebound and the goalie makes a big save or you hit a post — that’s happened to me a couple of times lately — and it’s tough,” Nystrom said.

“We’re due for a breakout. I know I’m due for one. We have a couple of games before the break and hopefully we can get some confidence.”

Again, the questions have arisen whether the Flames concentrate too much on defence.

Mayers, with five games as a Flame under his belt, said that’s not the case.

“It has nothing to do with the system,” he said. “This system is predicated on getting the puck when you don’t have it and keeping it when you do. Clearly, we play a pressure game and a tight game defensively, but that shouldn’t inhibit us. I’ve never felt it inhibits us when he gets us going and talks about the gameplan.

“He wants us to make plays when they’re there, just be responsible.”

For his part, Sutter belives the influx of players through the trades last week does give his team a better chance of more goals.

Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan and Ales Kotalik all lit the lamp on the recent trip.

“These guys, plus (Christopher) Higgins, are all 20-goal scorers, and (Ian) White has put up pretty good numbers. Look at what we’ve taken out and what we’ve put in (the lineup), and it’s a significant difference in numbers. The numbers are there for these guys to produce and they’ve been getting opportunities,” he said.


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