Key three on tap for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Amidst the disappointment of the Calgary Flames’ 3-0 debacle of a loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers last week, Jarome Iginla spoke wise words.

“We can’t afford to take one step forward, one step back throughout the whole season,” the captain stated.

It’s been that way so far.

OK, the steps have gone the other way through the first four games of the 2010-11 NHL campaign, but the destination has been the same.

Lose — and be shut out — and rebound with a win. Lose again — also via shutout — and then bounce back with a victory. One step backward and a step forward to get to the same spot. A one-win, one-loss trend won’t cut it in today’s NHL.

That brings the Flames to the challenge which lay ahead. Starting with Tuesday night’s clash with the Nashville Predators, the Flames play three games in four nights against clubs that will hunt for a playoff spot.

The Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets — the squads bookending the team’s road trip — are likely going to be around the Flames all season in the standings; one day in a playoff spot, sitting outside the next. They’ll likely finish anywhere from sixth to 12th spot in the Western Conference standings. The other team on the this sojourn is the Detroit Red Wings, a club that will challenge for a division title. So which direction will the Flames place their collective feet during this road swing?

Will it be forward? That would take some points — at least three out of a possible six, but more likely four on a tough trip — along with solid play over the nine periods.

Or will it be backward? That would mean returning home with little to show and outplayed in the majority of the periods.

Ignoring how the Flames have come to reach their 2-2-0 record, they’re doing OK. But OK is not OK. Take into account how poorly they played in those losses, and the situation is dicey. That opening-night 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers showcased a team which faced adversity and abandoned the gameplan, reverting to bad habits.

The Florida defeat was even worse, a case of being outworked by a younger squad.

Even the victories come with question marks. They beat a Los Angeles Kings team which played a late game the night before in Vancouver, and it took half the game for the Flames to find any semblance of form.

Saturday’s 5-3 win over Edmonton was a solid effort, but it came against a very young Oilers team. If the Flames want to build some currency with a fanbase which is looking at them with jaded eyes, they must beat quality teams the right way.

“The biggest thing with me is consistency. It’s having a compete level and a work ethic that we have to have every night,” head coach Brent Sutter said.

As much as the Flames insist they have the talent to score enough goals and be a contender, they haven’t proven it, and it will take a whack of solid outings to kill the perception everyone else has about them.

The first steps come this week. Will they move forward or stub those toes?

We’ll wait and see.


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