Expectations were low coming in.
But the Flames might have hit rock-bottom already — just a week into the season.
One of the oldest lineups in the league, the Calgary Flames have trotted out a roster eerily similar to the one that missed the playoffs a year ago.
Even after all the trades made midseason to improve the squad, they looked old, slow, scattered, and incapable of scoring.
Booed off the Saddledome ice after Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Flames give you the feeling early this season the same problems will plague them for another year.
Did you really expect anything different?
Were you that convinced an undefeated exhibition schedule would have any bearing on the regular-season?
Cautious optimism has crumbled into a state of complete despair.
It may be just three games into an 82-game schedule, but the Flames have showed little in the way of heart and even less skill in a league that rewards speed above all else.
They’ve been shut out twice and have allowed eight goals against in three games.
One of their three goals for came at even strength, the others coming shorthanded and into an empty net.
Worst of all, a team that once prided itself for outworking its opponents is showing little effort in doing things the way head coach Brent Sutter has demanded.
All the fun they were having while racking up a 7-0 record in the pre-season is out the window. Long forgotten.
It’s downright morbid in the room right now.
“We’re gonna have to start winning some games here and playing better hockey together before we start laughing and joking around,” defenceman Ian White said Friday after a long closed-door meeting was followed by a brief practice at the Westside Recreation Centre.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but we’re putting that pressure on ourselves. We need to be better.”
The question now is how much better these Flames can be.
Few thought this summer they’d be much of a threat to make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
Based on their performances so far, that seems a fair assessment.
Unless these guys loosen up and play hockey the way their coaching staff is demanding it, things aren’t about to change.
It’s an older team, but as head coach Brent Sutter said this week, they don’t have to play like it.
“It’s a fun game to play in and we’ve got to find the enjoyment,” said winger Alex Tanguay, whose Flames host the Oilers Saturday night. “We’ve got to be excited for (Saturday’s) game and we’ve got to enjoy it.”
The only way to enjoy it is to work for it, and it’s tough to feel loose when you’re feeling pressure to perform so early in the season.
“I won’t say you don’t squeeze the stick a little harder,” Tanguay admitted.
“I don’t know if it’s putting pressure on myself or trying to do too much to help the team. I just feel a little tight. I think it’s a feeling a lot of the guys have here in this dressing room.”
That feeling will only get worse if the Flames don’t outwork the Oilers Saturday.
In the dressing room, and across the city.