Now's the time for Flames to turn things around

Blues forward Chris Stewart scores against Flames goaltender Henrik Karlsson in St. Louis, Miss.,...

Blues forward Chris Stewart scores against Flames goaltender Henrik Karlsson in St. Louis, Miss., Oct. 10, 2011. (SARAH CONARD/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:23 AM ET

MONTREAL - The terrible start of the Calgary Flames’ 2010-11 edition is well known.

The team’s struggles brought the Flames to the depths of being tied with the Edmonton Oilers for last spot in the NHL’s Western Conference, cost then-GM Darryl Sutter his job and proved to be too severe to make the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Lost in the memory banks of many regarding the disappointing season was how that team actually had a very good start.

The Flames won six of their first nine contests last season and were looking strong enough to prove their naysayers wrong.

It was the two-month span starting with Game 10 where things all fell apart.

In the spell leading up to the their comeback victory over the Dallas Stars, the Flames went into a nasty downward spiral with a 7-15-3 run.

The timely goals needed to be a winning squad couldn’t be found. The defensive play was spottier than the 101 dalmatians, goaltending was inconsistent and the special teams weren’t special at all.

It’s the same case with the Flames today, having dropped their first two games of their tipping-point 2011-12 season and looking to end their skid Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.

This team doesn’t have the vast collection of top-end talent, big-name defence corps or any other elements to make you want to guarantee it’ll be a playoff squad.

However, this year’s edition of the Flames has a solid collection of forward depth, strong goaltending along with a defence corps which must prove itself.

So far, all of those entities are out of sync worse than a jalopy with a slipping transmission.

“We’re not playing smart,” succinctly stated defenceman Mark Giordano. “We’re causing a lot of turnovers and playing within our own zone too much because of it.

“The number-one thing is hard work, but second to that is you’ve got to be smart, and we’ve made some bad decisions. We have to be smarter and better in all three zones.”

Instead of flying from St. Louis to Montreal immediately after dropping a disappointing 5-2 clash to the Blues, the Flames stayed overnight and travelled to Quebec mid-day Tuesday.

In turn, they didn’t practise.

Rest assured, though, head coach Brent Sutter will begin giving his players a once over, especially in regards to what’s expected of them as individuals and collectively.

Sutter noted his team’s need for a “lunch-bucket” attitude, which is a far cry from what we’ve witnessed in the two games so far this season.

Instead of being an aggressive squad which is creating scoring chances and being strong defensively by playing physical and chasing down loose pucks, the Flames have been soft as butter sitting on the counter during a heat wave.

For a team trying to have a wolfpack mentality, it’s been more a case of lone wolves sitting in the bushes and hoping the food will come to them.

“It’s definitely mental and it’s a commitment,” captain Jarome Iginla said of the lack of determination seen so far this season. “It’s hard work. Both teams want to win and want to feel good after, and it’s not going to be easy. We haven’t got it there yet.”

Sure, with 80 games left on the schedule, the Flames have time to get their game in the proper gear. But waiting too long can be costly, as witnessed last season.

“It’s not good enough. We know that. We’ve talked about it,” Iginla said. “We’ll talk about it the next couple of days. We’ve got to be better defensively. There’s no question. A lot of defence is just hard work, and we’re not working hard enough and being physical enough, too.

“We believe we have the ability, but now we have to go out and show it. We haven’t the first two games.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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