January 15, 2012
California, here come the Flames
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
One step forward, one step back.
Such has been the story this season for the Calgary Flames.
Every time the Flames make a push and move within striking distance of the Western Conference’s playoff picture — which happened yet again by winning three of four games during their recent homestand — they fall backwards. All too often, that drop-off has occurred when they leave the Sea of Red.
Starting with the 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Nov. 18, the Flames have cobbled together a 10-1-1 record at the Saddledome, with the lone regulation-time loss Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Darryl Sutter and the Los Angeles Kings. Nothing to complain about there.
However, in that time, the Flames have stumbled and bumbled to a dismal 4-10-3 road record. They are currently on a five-game road losing skid, with the most recent defeat being that egregious 9-0 debacle at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
The Flames are in tough to be a playoff squad, currently sitting in 12th spot in the West — four points back of the eighth-place Minnesota Wild.
If they can’t start finding road wins, even just to get that mark above .500, a trip to the Stanley Cup tournament will remain a pipe dream.
Therefore, this is a club which must win two of three on the road.
Imagine that — starting with Tuesday’s clash at the San Jose Sharks (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet West), the Flames have a three-game trip on which to concentrate.
It won’t be easy, though, because following that date with the Sharks will be Part 2 of the Sutter-versus-Sutter coaching battle with a visit to the Los Angeles Kings.
The trip ends Saturday with the fourth meeting this season in the Battle of Alberta.
“Our focus is on the start,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. “San Jose is a very good team, but it’s good to play those teams, especially in those buildings. You’ve got a chance to build up some momentum again.
“You knock off a team like San Jose in their rink, and it’s a great start to your road trip. That will be our goal.”
What’s hard to understand is how the Flames can be so good at home, yet so awful on the road. All the things the Flames are doing right at home in the last few months — solid defensive play, good special teams, timely goals — aren’t happening when they hit the road.
“We just have to play like we have at home,” said centre Mikael Backlund, who showed signs of breaking out of his season-long struggles in the Los Angeles game. “We have to find the game we play at home and play the same way on the road, a good, two-way game and work hard on offence.
“Be aggressive, go to the net and put the pucks in.”
The Flames should have extra motivation on their side, at least while they’re in California.
They’ve lost three straight to the Sharks — and three in a row in Silicon Valley — while the Kings rematch is a chance to make amends for Saturday’s defeat.
“We’re going to be playing them three more times in the next big,” Iginla said.
“And the Pacific (Division), we have 18 more games against them ...
“Now, we get ready to have a good road trip.”