November 14, 2010
Flames' situation already criticalTeam has overcome slow starts in past, but they’re running out of time
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency
It’d be easy to count out these Calgary Flames.
They woke up this morning losers of six of their last seven games and a 7-9-0 record, giving them 14 points through their first 16 games — their worst start since 2003-04.
They sit in 14th spot in the Western Conference, just three points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers — closer to the bottom of the heap than the four points that separated them from the three teams tied for the seventh and eighth playoff seedings.
Their coach sounds at times completely deflated, in other moments full of anger, and almost always shaking his head over a collection of players that can’t seem to find a way to play the game the way he wants.
They’re making stupid mistakes, finding ways to lose rather than win, and are creeping ever closer to reaching American Thanksgiving on the southern side of that imaginary line statistics suggest only one team can climb back over to make the playoffs.
As the Boston Bruins informed Oilers rookie Taylor Hall during one of his pre-draft interviews, seven of the eight teams in playoff spots at Thanksgiving remain in them.
That means only one typically overcomes a slow start.
In 2003-04, that was the Flames, who limped out of the gate with a 6-8-2 record over their first 16 games and needed to go on a run — and fast — to make up ground.
They did it, going on a 12-3-2 tear in their next 16 games before Christmas following their awful start.
Darryl Sutter brought in his secret weapon, acquiring goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff in a trade with the Sharks
Nov. 16, the day after their 16th game of the season.
The Finn went from third string in San Jose to starter with the Flames and quickly turned into a star.
Nine of his 13 starts before the holiday break saw him surrender just a single goal. He also earned a shutout. Overall, Kirpusoff went 10-2-1 in those games and allowed a total of 18 goals — an average of 1.38 per contest.
Finishing their season with a 42-30-7 record, the Flames locked up sixth spot in the Western Conference and made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup final, during which they lost in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s a rare success story, and the Flames have been unable to recapture that kind of magic in five seasons since the lockout.
It’s even more unlikely now. With 14 points to their credit, the Flames will need at least 80 more to have a hope at making the playoffs. With 66 games left, it means they’ll have to win almost two thirds of the time to reach that goal.
And after a brief two-game homestand this week, they’ll have to hit that standard while playing five straight on the road in just seven nights — with stops in Detroit, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
So go ahead and look to that charge in 2003-04 as an example of what can be done. Nothing is impossible.
But keep this in mind — they already have Kiprusoff this time around. And in spite of his spectacular play, the Flames dug themselves a massive hole.
This one will be tough to climb out of.