November 21, 2011
5 Burning Questions: Does smoke equal fire?
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency
Just when you think you’ve got the Calgary Flames all figured out, they go and dismantle the league’s best squad.
That big win over the Chicago Blackhawks last week sure made things seem a lot less dreary in Calgary.
Then again, the way the Edmonton Oilers handled the Blackhawks the next night with a 9-2 pounding might have taken a little of the shine off the Flames’ 5-2 victory.
Plenty of questions to be answered by the Flames this week.
Just what are the Flames?
Cellar dwellers? A good team playing poorly? A bad team that can play well on occasion? Almost a quarter of the way through the NHL season, these are the kinds of questions still being asked about a team that has an identity in mind but has rarely played to its vision.
If you ask head coach Brent Sutter, he’d say they all have to play that certain way they did against the Blackhawks at the Saddledome in Friday night’s big victory. They focused on shutting down a stellar offence and, as a result, created plenty of opportunities for themselves to score.
And most importantly, they took advantage of their opportunities.
If the team sticks to its defence-first mentality and figures out a way to make the most of their scoring opportunities — and continues to get solid goaltending — the Flames might actually have a shot at the playoffs.
Are the kids staying for good?
High praise has been heaped on the young additions, with Roman Horak one of the more consistent players (despite a few ups and downs) and recent call-up Paul Byron using his speed to create energy and excitement.
Blueliner T.J. Brodie is filling in nicely with Anton Babchuk on the shelf and Derek Smith banged up.
So when their veteran counterparts are all healed up, it will be tough to keep the kids out of the lineup.
That’s a good thing for the Flames, who are gradually decreasing the average age of the club and looking at the future as well as the present. It may mean growing pains along the way, but the tide is definitely turning to transition with the injection of youth bridging the gap formerly much wider than it should have been.
Is Lee StemPniak
headed for a hot streak?
Playing some of his best games as a member of the Flames the last week, it looks like the notoriously streaky winger is heating up.
That could be good news for the low-scoring Flames, who would definitely benefit from more goals from Stempniak, who has looked energized on a line with rookies Horak and Byron recently.
Stempniak had two goals and three points in his last three games prior to Monday night’s contest against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
What happens in Detroit this time?
Their last meeting couldn’t have gone better for the Flames, who pulled off a 4-1 win over the Red Wings in Motown earlier this month.
How they follow up that last outing will go a long way in convincing skeptics the Flames can be competitive with some of the league’s more talented teams.
On the flipside, if things go poorly, it would give those who can’t imagine the Flames playing as well as they did against the likes of the Blackhawks on a consistent basis more fuel for the fire.
With the Red Wings playing much better than they were when they last hosted the Flames, the visitors will have their work cut out for them this time around.
Is the roadie a make-or- break week?
With the Flames still floating around the .500 mark, the current four-game road trip could either boost their confidence and start them on a winning path or crush their spirits and send them even deeper into a hole that can historically be difficult to climb out of following American Thanksgiving, which is Thursday.
Sutter wants the team to push for victories between now and Christmas to set them up in better shape for the second half of the season, and it will take a solid quarter season between now and then to make sure they don’t face a nearly impossible climb as they did a year ago.
On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane