Lagging Flames ahead in some ways

Calgary Flames Brendan Morrison, left, skates with Flames coach Brent Sutter at practice in...

Calgary Flames Brendan Morrison, left, skates with Flames coach Brent Sutter at practice in Calgary, Alberta, on October 17, 2011. MIKE DREW/QMI AGENCY, file

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 AM ET

CALGARY - Forget the idea you can't believe everything you read.

Sometimes, you can't believe everything you see, either.

Take the Calgary Flames' start this season.

Although at first glance it seems they're behind in comparison to the way they hit the ice last fall, they're actually in much better shape.

Maybe not in the standings, but in their heads and on the ice.

Clinging to victory over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night improved their record to 3-4-1 -- seven points in eight games so far.

Seems a far cry from the way they came out last season.

With five wins in their first eight contests a year ago, the Flames had earned 10 points by now.

Then came the awful losing skid that arguably derailed their playoff hopes. The Flames lost 10 of their next 13, looking lost on the ice and playing without any sort of system. Bad habits ruled.

Head coach Brent Sutter knows the points will continue to come now if they continue to play the way they have the past week or so.

Without a doubt, they're a better team now than there were last year at this point.

"No question. I do feel that," Sutter said Wednesday after a practice at the Westside Recreation Centre.

"I guess it's not just what my feeling is that's really important, it's what the guys are thinking, too. I think the guys are sensing it, too. This is the type of game we have to play. This is how we have to play as a team.

"It's all part of the progress.

"When you've been with a group for a couple of years, you learn all about them and they do (about) you," added Sutter, who's in the final year of a three-year deal. "They know what to expect.

"It's part of getting to know people and what expectations are inside the organization."

As the Flames prepare for Friday night's game against the St. Louis Blues at the Saddledome (7 p.m., Sportsnet West), there is still plenty of work to do. The last half of that 4-2 win over the Avalanche was proof of that. Instead of going for the jugular and increasing their lead after dominating the first 30 minutes, the Flames sat back and tried to protect a two-goal gap.

It wasn't long before they got on their heels.

"None of us will tell you that we're 100% happy with the way we're playing right now," said winger Alex Tanguay, who points to the first period of that game as perfection.

"We played our system the way we want to play, to a tee. And then, halfway through the second, we started making mistakes, we started holding back.

"In order for us to have success, we've got to be moving our feet, we've to be hounding the puck. We're a team that's got size, that's got speed. If we use that to our advantage, we're going to be creative in the offensive zone, we're going to have chances.

"If we don't, we're going to see the types of things we did (Wednesday) night late in the period, where they carried the play, and we're just kind of sitting back on our heels.

"You need to keep playing."

In their case, they need to keep learning.

But they're already ahead of the curve set last season.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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