SUN Hockey Pool

Still same-old, same-old for Flames

Calgary Flames' goal scorer Lee Stempniak (22) is congratulated by teammates Cory Sarich (6) and...

Calgary Flames' goal scorer Lee Stempniak (22) is congratulated by teammates Cory Sarich (6) and T.J. Brodie during the 1st period of their NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Calgary, Alberta, November 18, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Sturk)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

CALGARY - The Calgary Flames aren’t exactly where they were at this same point last season.

A year ago, after 18 games, the Flames had a 8-10-0 mark.

They have a 8-9-1 record this time around.

That’s a difference of one whole point in the standings.

OK, we’ll stop being cheeky. The Flames are almost exactly in the same spot as a year ago, all the way down to the fact they’re coming off a big home-ice victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and about to embark on a road trip amidst questions abounding whether this team can find the consistency in its play and offensive attack to win with regularity.

You would think a veteran-laden team which knows the sting of seeing an incredible run to the end of the season go for naught would know better than put itself in the same spot again.

“You would think that,” head coach Brent Sutter said after Sunday’s practice.

Yet, here we are again.

Oh sure, Friday’s 5-2 win is a dose of positive light in what’s becoming a frustrating season for the Flames, but it’s still looking like the same-old, same-old.

This was the team which went into the season adamant it knew how to play to be a playoff contender, having seen so much success after Christmas in the 2010-11 season.

Instead, it’s in the same boat, having muddled along and failed to cobble together anything of a winning streak.

Monday’s clash with the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets is a chance for the Flames to prove they don’t want to wait until Christmastime to get things in a higher gear.

Lord knows Sutter doesn’t expect to wait.

“I’m tired of all the reasons. I’m tired of all the excuses — slow starts in seasons, everything like that. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody here, but that’s unacceptable,” said Sutter, whose team had best know a win over Chicago is meaningless without a follow-up. “We’re a game below .500 and, bottom line, it’s because we’ve had individuals not play to the standards that’s expected of them.

“We need everyone to be better. We need to keep our game at a level that allows us to have success.

“I understand there’s nights it just doesn’t work for you, but it can’t be because your intensity level isn’t where it needs to be and it can’t be because your work ethic isn’t where it needs to be. We’ve had some nights like that, and it’s unacceptable.”

Against the Blackhawks, the Flames what they are capable of doing when playing with dogged determination. They forced turnovers. They generated offence. They held a very potent team in check.

All too often, the Flames have been guilty of failing to build on wins, reverting back into a passionless squad.

You bet it’s challenging Sutter.

“It’s been a battle. I really thought we took some strides the last half of the year in how we wanted to be as a team,” he said. “Yet, we had some guys drop their guards. There’s no sense sugar coating it. When individuals’ play isn’t at the level they need it to be — and they get so caught up into that they forget about team play — it’s troublesome and it’s hurt us.

“Hopefully, we’ve worked through that the last week or so, when we’ve played some better hockey.

“But that level needs to be there.”

Needs to be there PDQ.

A 27-11-9 run to the end the season isn’t likely in the cards for the Flames, so they can’t wait until Christmas season to find another gear.

“We need to make a push from now to Christmas. That’s the way I look at it,” Sutter said “We have to set ourselves up going into after Christmas and give ourselves an opportunity to get into the dance at the end of the year, not just be there but be a good team going in there.”

Thus, the emotional investment he expects to see.

“We can’t drop our guard.” We’re trying to get into the pack. Every game is a big game,” Sutter said. “It’s not always how you win. It’s how you lose, too.

“We’ve got to be a team that loses hard.”


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