SUN Hockey Pool

Flames' November may be a monster

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Mired in a four-game losing streak — their longest since slinking into their summer by dropping a quartet to end last season — things look bleak for the Calgary Flames right now.

One more loss would make it the longest slump since the nine-game drought last January essentially destroyed their season.

So all you pessimists out there might as well rip the November page in your Flames calendars right out of the book.

It’s that intimidating.

Eight of the 11 games remaining this month come on the road.

Only two of those visits come against teams currently below them in the league standings: The Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils.

Other stops include San Jose to face the equally win-hungry Sharks, treks to historically hostile territories in Detroit and Chicago, the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers and sixth-seeded New York Rangers.

Kicking things off Tuesday in Denver against their division rival Colorado Avalanche, the Flames certainly have their work cut out for them.

Some have quickly counted out the Flames as playoff contenders.

Jarome Iginla has just two goals on the season, while Wild pot-stirrer Cal Clutterbuck has four, Penguins pest Matt Cooke and Oilers fourth-liner Ryan Jones both have three, and Maple Leafs thug Colton Orr has a pair himself.

The Flames are allowing nearly three goals against per game.

Their powerplay has been given more than 60 man-advantage opportunities — sixth most in the league — but squandered all but eight of them.

Sort of like the way they’ve been wasting leads in games lately.

But there is an optimistic view to be taken, as well.

Head coach Brent Sutter’s style of hockey preaches sound play without the puck and capitalizing on your offensive opportunities.

That’s the exact formula needed when you’re on the road, and the Flames can look to their 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the Saddledome last week for a textbook example of how to do it.

If the team is going to have any sort of success during their three-game stretch this week (against the Avalanche, Coyotes and Sharks), they may be able to translate that into better play at home in crucial contests at the Dome before they head back out on the trail with a five-game trek against the Red Wings, Rangers, Devils, Flyers and Penguins that will be played over the course of just seven nights.

It’s still too early to fairly evaluate the Flames and what they may be capable of.

Typically, those kinds of guesses are postponed until the quarter pole.

That 20-game mark comes during the marathon road swing out east in what might be their toughest month all season.

Calling it a make-or-break November might be a bit harsh considering how much of the 2010-11 campaign remains. But to stay afloat in the playoff race, they’ll have to be better than they have been so far, mostly in the luxury of their own rink.

With a 6-7 record and 12 points, they sat 13th in the Western Conference standings Sunday, just four ahead of the lowly last-place Edmonton Oilers. Then again, they’re only six behind Northwest Division-leading Vancouver Canucks.

Welcome to the salary cap era of the NHL, where one strong stretch of games can elevate you to the top of the league and a bad one can mean tumbling to the bottom of the mountain.

Right now, the Flames are barely off the ground in their climb, but a landslide this month could all but bury them.


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