Flames not unboring

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Ahh... Darryl Sutter hockey, almost as exciting as vacuuming.

The 5-5-0-1 Flames fell 3-0 to the undermanned Detroit Red Wings Tue., Nov. 3. It was one of those games the teams wished they hadn't played and the fans wished they hadn't watched. It was boring, unimaginative hockey--something Flames fans should get used to, even with the heightened expectations surrounding this year's team.

As long as the Flames go with their current set of players and their current head coach, games like this will be the norm.

Calgary plays hard-nosed defensive hockey. They flood the neutral zone with hordes of thugs and wait for the other team to get irritated and make mistakes. Pretty goals only happen by accident. It is therefore no surprise the prettiest goal of the season belongs to Polish enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa who stunned the Edmonton Oilers, and himself, with a textbook breakaway marker in Calgary's 4-2 win Sat., Oct. 25.

When the Flames are on, the games are hard-hitting and exciting. When the opposition is patient, like Detroit, you get stretches like the first 14 minutes of this game, where neither team gets a shot on goal. And disaster strikes when the Flames get fed up and take penalties, with Chuck Kobasew's "interference" on Steve Yzerman in the last minute of the first period being a perfect example of how to lose a game.

To be fair, Kobasew's penalty happened because he looks like referee Paul Devorski's wife's frisky pool boy, but no matter, the Red Wings' Brendan Shanahan scored a pretty one-timer goal and the veteran Wings had a good chuckle on the bench.

Meanwhile, the Flames gave up on the game.

While their frustrating brand of hockey worked wonders against the Oilers and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Red Wings kept calm and waited for Calgary to commit the first mistake. Inevitably, the Flames did, and the game was done even before Jarome Iginla's and Oleg Saprykin's giveaways handed the Wings two more goals.

The lesson from this game? The Flames will look foolish when they face veteran teams and their energy level is low. The upside? This will not happen every night, especially with Sutter calling an 8 a.m. practice the morning after the loss.

Unlike last year's squad, it would be surprising if the Flames followed this kind of effort with anything worse. While consecutive losses were the norm in 2002/03, this year's squad will not lose its drive as easily, which should lead to more stability and a better record. The Flames still look better this season than in seasons past, and the playoffs look like a hopeful, albeit still realistic, goal.

Calgary currently sits ninth in the Western Conference with a home game against the Minnesota Wild Fri., Nov. 7 before embarking on a four game road trip. Look for a better effort from the Flames on home ice, if not, practices will move to 6 a.m. and heads will roll.