Windy City worries for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Three-quarters of a road trip done.

Two points in hand.

"It's not the way we drew it up before we got out here," said Calgary Flames right winger Lee Stempniak.

Not at all what the Flames were looking for when they began this four-game trek, which concludes Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Three games into the trip, the Flames are yet to taste victory, having netted just a couple of charity points with an overtime loss in Tampa and shootout defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers Friday night.

Their last chance to make this week-long sojourn a success comes against a Blackhawks team which is rounding into form, and had moved into a tie with the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the league standings by posting a 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 outings.

A tough task indeed for Calgary.

And if that's not enough, trips to the Windy City have been a road to nowhere in recent seasons for the Flames.

The Flames beat the Blackhawks in their last meeting, a 5-2 game at the Saddledome in mid-November. However, they have lost their last seven regular-season games in the Madhouse on Madison, including a 4-1 affair on Remembrance Day.

Having dropped three straight overall, even if two of them made it to extra time, the Flames aren't on a high confidence-wise.

But know there's no sense worrying about what's in the past.

"Against Tampa, we didn't have a great effort in the first two periods, and played really well in the third. We got ourselves a point, but if we had played longer the right way, I think we would have won," Stempniak said. "(Against Florida), we had a one-goal lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the third period, but gave that up and never got it back. It's better than not getting any points, but there's no consolation losing that one.

"But, at this point, you've just got to look forward to the next game and go from there."

Where the Flames are going, though, is no sure thing.

This road trip is the beginning of a critical, and difficult 13-game stretch, with 11 games on the road through the first week of January.

Flames GM Jay Feaster said early this month there wasn't a date set for the team to decide to what direction the team will move with personnel decisions, but it's obvious that time is coming soon, long before the Feb. 27, 2012 trade deadline, if the Flames are unable to start winning with the regularity they had in the games leading up to this road trip, or even fumble around the .500 mark, Feaster and the Flames have to turn the page on the core this team possesses.

They've started a reload, but the pages in the next chapter will need to be turned faster.

If the Flames can somehow make a climb through this difficult spell and be in a playoff position with 40 games remaining, 26 of them at home, they may just have hope of being a playoff team.

The way this road trip has started doesn't bode well. It's up to the Flames to follow the blueprints they prefer.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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