January 25, 2012
Close won't cut it for Flames
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
The Calgary Flames keep on teasing their faithful.
They must start pleasing.
Three times this season, make that three times in the last seven weeks, the Flames pulled within striking distance of the Western Conference’s elite eight.
Three times, they’ve failed to net that next victory.
It’s becoming a disappointing trend.
“It’s tough when you keep getting close,” admitted Flames defenceman Scott Hannan after his team wasted a big chance Tuesday night in a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks. “We’ve got to get over that little hump and into a playoff spot.”
The fact is, the Flames went into the game against the Sharks just two points back of the eighth-place Colorado Avalanche, but wouldn’t have jumped into a playoff position even with a win.
The Minnesota Wild, which sat between Calgary and Colorado, beat the Avalanche, and promptly moved three points up on the Flames and into that desirable No. 8 slot.
Still, it’s another example of the Flames getting oh-so-close to erasing the damage from their dreadful November, but failing to seal the deal again.
Let’s look back.
After beating the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 10, the Flames were two points out of a playoff spot, but a few nights later lost 2-1 to the Nashville Predators at the start of what turned out to be a four-game slide.
By beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first game after the Christmas break, the Flames actually were tied with Nashville for eighth place, but officially sat ninth.
A couple of days later, the Flames lost to the New York Islanders and again went on a skid, dropping five in a row, a run which culminated with the 9-0 loss to the Boston Bruins.
To their credit, the Flames rebounded, cobbling together a 5-1-1 record to get close to the top eight.
However, a shutout loss to the Sharks meant a tumble back down the standings.
“There was a little mountain before we had a tough time getting over, the .500 mark,” recalled defenceman Chris Butler. “We’d get to .500 and lose a game. We finally got over that and have taken some strides.”
We’ll see whether the Flames can parlay those strides into more after Sunday’s all-star game and NHL action resumes next Tuesday.
The Flames have 32 games remaining on the slate — 19 at home, 13 on the road — but won’t have it easy following the respite.
They start the post-break schedule against the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings, and then the Chicago Blackhawks come calling.
It won’t be easy to prevent one loss from turning into two, three, four or more.
“We have to win our fair share after the all-star break, but we’re ready to do it,” Hannan pledged. “We’re starting to do the right things, coming back (defensively), making good plays, things you need to do in tight hockey games.
“We know we’re in the thick of it. We just have to win hockey games. It’ll be good to get away, a little mental break because we played a lot of games there in December and the early part of January. We’ve got to get refocused and come back for a strong push.”
“I know the guys have confidence from going on a run last year to get close, just fell a bit short,” added Butler, who came to Calgary from Buffalo in the off-season trade that was headlined by Robyn Regehr.
“I was fortunate to be on a side where we did climb out of a similar and did make the playoffs. We still have confidence in ourselves. You have to string wins together and have the mindset.
“It’s tough when you sit around every single day and always look at the standings. It an wear on you. I think our focus has to be on playing complete games and giving ourselves to win games night in and night out.
“It’s about getting a winning attitude, and if you lose a game, don’t sit on it too long. Just come out the next night with the right effort.”
HORAK DISPATCHED TO AHL
Rookie centre Roman Horak was assigned to the AHL Abbotsford Heat after Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks and will likely to return to the Flames after the all-star break.
Horak has two goals and nine points in 42 games this season and been reduced to a fourth-line role of late.