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Don't press the panic button

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames
The city of Calgary is blessed to have some of the most passionate fans in the entire sporting world. Something as insignicant as a 7th defenceman missing practice for maintance is cause for concern and arouses questions far deeper than just what ailment the player is suffering.

Queries about the team's depth on defence, which prospect can replace the player if he's out longer than expected and the club's overall defensive strength from it's top players to its recently-drafted picks.

This is the kind of passion many American teams would die to have. People are so attached to this hockey club that they devote time, money and energy to it on a very regular basis. The Flames are simply a part of their day-to-day lives.

That passion, however, can take different forms depending on how the team is performing. Right now, the Flames are in the midst of a rough patch. They've fell four straight times, all in varying manners.

Dropping a 6-5 contest to Colorado Avalanche was a bit shocking but at least the team was scoring goals. The 7-2 loss to the Capitals incited anger and boo's from the crowd. The game in Detroit earned frustration from the Flames inability to beat Jimmy Howard more than once. The last tilt, against the notoriously stingy Minnesota Wild, has cast an apprehensive cloud over the city, wondering if the offensive woes the team struggled with last season will once again hamper their post-season hopes.

These reactions, while valid, border on slight hysteria. Being concerned is one thing - giving up on the season just 13 games in is another. Losses are always disappointing but instead of dwelling on the negatives, there are always positives to be looked at.

In Minnesota, the Flames had over 30 shots. Not all of them were great scoring chances but it never hurts to put the puck on the net and given the team has had a history of being offensively challenged, they should be applauded for their efforts against the Wild.

"I thought we had some good scoring chances, ones on another day that would go in," captain Jarome Iginla told the Calgary Herald afterwards. "We were trying everything we could to get that thing to go in the net but Backstrom played a great game.

"We have to stay with it and stay positive, keep working, get those scoring chances and they’ll go in but you have to get them consistently. Our last couple have been steps in the right direction."

After the loss in Minnesota, head coach Brent Sutter expounded what needed to be taken from the game.

"We did a lot of good things, played a really good hockey game but I wasn’t happy with the second goal," he said. "We didn’t forecheck the way we needed to and didn’t backcheck the way we needed to. It’s a 1-1 hockey game and we need to be better at that point in time.

"For 59 minutes and 30 seconds we played good hockey and that’s the most disappointing part of it. There wasn’t another shift that way the whole night and it cost us. You just can’t drop your guard."

The Flames are also seeing a scoring-by-committee attitude from their lineup. Iginla and his linemates, Matt Stajan and Alex Tanguay, have struggled to produce as of late and the team knows they can't count upon a single line to win them games.

Over the past five outings, Tim Jackman, Jay Bouwmeester, Brendan Morrison, Curtis GlencrossOlli Jokinen, Niklas Hagman, Mark Giordano and Rene Bourque have scored. Having balanced scoring is something the Flames need to succeed this season and the team knows they have to continue this.

"We need scoring from everyone, no question," Giordano said. "All the forward lines need to be able to put up points and so does our defence. If we want to be a good team, everybody has to do their part and that often means generating offence. We want everyone taking shots when they can."

A player who has shone through the losses has been Mikael Backlund. While the young forward hasn't put up a ton of points in the first 13 games , he's excelled in playing a very complete game. He's been placed in penalty killing role early this season and he's flourished.

His excellent vision has created several short-handed opportunities for the Flames and when he and Glencross are on the ice during a kill, their speed can cripple the opposition's defence.

"I'm just trying to play my game and get better each game," the 21 year-old said last week. "I want to help the team any way I can, on the PK, power play and even strength.

"It's good the coaches know they can put me on the penalty kill. It means they trust me so I want to be able to continue to do that."

It's important to remember these positive traits during times where the team isn't performing at a level they'd like to be. It's also important to remember that the reason is still in it's infancy and it is better to identify issues early on so that corrections can be made.

Take a deep breathe, relax and remember the sky isn't falling. It's only November - don't press the panic button yet.
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