Keys to the .500 club

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET

In today’s NHL, where overtime and shootout losses are allowed to essentially count as ties, being a .500 team isn’t as difficult a claim to make as in years past.

Based on that formula, only two Western Conference clubs are sub-.500, and the Calgary Flames are one of them.

Yet, it’s a quest for that break-even mark which has become the short-term goal for the Flames.

As the team — with its 14-16-3 record — heads on the road for a three-game trek to end the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule, the players have a target in mind.

Return for present-opening, turkey-eating time with a .500 mark or better.

That means either drumming up two victories and losing the other in extra time or posting a sweep of their games Monday at Minnesota, the next night in Columbus and Thursday in Dallas.

Considering this is a squad with a 5-9-3 road record and one that has lost three straight away from the Saddledome and with just two victories in its last nine road clashes — both via shootout — such an order would seem tall.

“It is possible,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla in the moments following Saturday’s 3-1 home-ice disappointment against the Wild. “We’re due for some road wins. I think it’s a reasonable goal.

“Right now, I shouldn’t get carried away. It’s Minnesota on Monday — a bounce-back chance to get back on the win side.”

Ah yeah … the Wild own a one-point edge on the Flames heading into the second half of the home-and-home set.

It’s a team which, when on top of its game, would make a straight jacket feel roomy for players frustrated by a suffocating style of play.

And it’s a team the Flames yet again fell into a slumber against in Saturday’s loss at the Dome.

“Most guys in here have played these guys several times, and you know they won’t give you a lot, but you will get chances if you stick with it. We had chances,” said Flames defenceman Cory Sarich. “You have to find a way and wear them down. They usually have good goaltending and block a lot of shots. You have to try not to give them a lead, because they’re a difficult team to get back on if you give them a lead.

“It’s a combo that’s hard to beat, but we have to find a way in the next 48 hours.”

And then the Flames have to do the same against a struggling Columbus Blue Jackets team, which has just two wins in their last 10 games, before facing a surprising Dallas Stars team, which was second in the Western Conference before Sunday’s action.

A second straight loss to the Wild and that quest for .500 is dead.

“This is a big road trip for us,” said Flames centre Matt Stajan, whose third-period goal ended a lengthy drought. “Obviously, these guys are a team we’re chasing. We can’t dwell on (Saturday’s) game too much.

“We have to take what we did (right during) this one and make sure we bring that to this road trip.”

Otherwise, this team is certainly destined to follow the path of past Flames teams, such as the one from 2000-01.

That year, the Flames managed to recover from a slow start and was on the cusp of hitting .500 in early January and even getting within a handful of points of a playoff spot.

They never managed to break the barrier. All seven times, they had a chance to hit an even-standing, they failed the test and eventually the season fell apart completely by mid-February.

At this stage, they can’t afford another dud of a performance, such as their most recent defeat.

“Every game is important for us — you need points against teams you are chasing,” Stajan said.

“Now we have to play desperate to get points in all the games coming up. We have to focus on the first one in Minnesota. It would have been nice to keep the streak going on home ice and heading out on a high, but we have show resilience. We need to show we can bounce back.”

We know the Flames are capable of bouncing back.

It’s having the ability to take a giant leap forward we’re questioning.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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