5 Flames subplots for this week

Edmonton's Sam Gagner can't get by Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff during the third period of the the...

Edmonton's Sam Gagner can't get by Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff during the third period of the the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Saturday, December 3, 2011. CODIE MCLACHLAN/ QMI AGENCY

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:46 PM ET

CALGARY - The Calgary Flames are in a position to make a bit of a run.

Certainly the schedule maker is giving them a chance to get on something of a winning roll with home dates against a trio of struggling clubs and some positives in the past while.

The Flames still have a lot of ground to make up, as well as plenty of teams to vault over, to be in a playoff spot, but they could quiet some critics, quash some of the trade rumours swirling around them and feel good about themselves with a big week.

Otherwise, be prepared for more of the same old leading up to the Christmas break.

1. Home Cooking

A three-game homestand isn’t usually a big deal. For more than four weeks, though, the coming Saddledome contests against the Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are the majority of games in the Stampede City.

After these affairs, the Flames play 11 of 13 games on the road, and criss-cross the continent to do it.

The Flames home record (5-5-2) is nothing to be excited about and the home powerplay mark (4.4%, 2-for-45) is downright frightening.

Considering that all three visiting teams are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, and playing sub-.500 hockey in their last 10 games, it’s an opportunity to make up some ground on the playoff pack.

It’s up to the Flames to take advantage opposition invading their turf.

2. Eyes on the defence

With Mark Giordano on the shelf due to his hamstring injury and veteran Cory Sarich regularly a healthy scratch, it’s hard to get a read on what direction the Flames are going with their blueline brigade.

On one hand, you can’t help but wonder whether the club is looking for another NHL-proven defenceman to fill the big hole with Giordano on the shelf.

But on the other side, you have Sarich sitting in the press box while three players in T.J. Brodie, Derek Smith and Joe Piskula play despite a combined 53 career NHL games. The Flames could try their best to trade the defenceman due to be an unrestricted free agent for some assets.

If the Flames want to trade Sarich and are hoping for a maximum return, their best bet would be near the trade deadline. All kinds of clubs will want a veteran for depth.

Either way, Jay Bouwmeester will continue to rack up ice time and the club’s young defence corps will be put in a brighter spotlight in the coming weeks.

3. Sutter vs. Sutter

The way things were going, we were starting to wonder whether Brent Sutter would still be Calgary’s head coach when his son Brandon and the Carolina Hurricanes came calling.

In the end, it’s the Hurricanes who replaced their bench boss, firing Paul Maurice a week ago and replacing him with Kirk Muller.

Since Brent joined the Flames as head coach, his team has a 1-0-1 record against Brandon’s Hurricanes, including a 4-1 victory at the Saddledome a couple of seasons ago.

They will undoubtedly be happy to see each other, but you bet Brent wouldn’t feel any remorse furthering the struggles for his son’s team.

4. Avalanche warning

The Flames have won eight straight meetings with the Colorado Avalanche.

In fact, they’ve won 10 of 11 encounters with their Northwest Division rivals.

Eventually, the Avs will end up on the right side of the scoreboard, but the Flames can ill afford to let that happen now if they want to climb into the playoff picture.

Calgary has won the first three clashes between the two teams this season.

5. Oil seeks revenge

Speaking of a team the Flames have had their way with of late, the Battle of Alberta has also been surprisingly one-sided, with Calgary running its winning streak over Edmonton to seven straight and 14 of 15 clashes.

The Flames have posted a pair of come-from-behind victories over their provincial rivals this season, including an entertaining 5-3 win this past Saturday.

Whether Oilers rising star Taylor Hall can recover in time from his shoulder injury remains to be seen, but the Flames have done a solid job of keeping Edmonton’s stable of talented youngsters from being the offensive dynamos they seem destined to become.

It will be an interesting rematch, to be sure, next weekend on Hockey Night in Canada. 


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