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Flames looking to clean things up in short order

After a tough night against the Blues, the Flames know they need to shore up their game

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- Matt Stajan wasn't in the mood for rationalizations or crutches or niceties.

"No excuses,'' murmured the veteran centreman with a withering bluntness. "It's no fun. No one's happy.

"It hasn't been pretty.

"You've gotta be p--ed off. I sure am.

"If you're not, you shouldn't be playing."

New system? New coach? New personnel?

Old news.

On a night the Calgary Flames conjured up four goals and their goaltender played pretty darn well, they still came away on the short end of the stick, 6-4 to a well-polished, highly-efficient St. Louis Blues outfit.

The Flames early-season misscues overruled another show of against-all-odds resolve which very nearly pulled them all the way back from the abyss.

Video: Flames forward talks about the 6-4 loss to St. Louis

Right now, they seem to be struggling in a straight-jacket of their own making.

"We're working hard,'' sighed winger Kris Versteeg, who collected his first two goals in the colours. "We're just not, in the end, working smart. If we're going to be bluntly honest, in this league every team micro-manages every situation.

"So you've got to be smart.

"It's really been about puck management for us. We're a young team, learning new things. But we'll get better."

From down 1-0 to up 2-1 to behind 5-2 to back within one, 5-4, bossing the momentum and on the power play with four and a half minutes to go, the comeback was never completed. 

And while he might've been dinged for five goals, Chad Johnson, a surprise starter in place of ex-Blue Brian Ellliot in Calgary's net, could at least exit the rink with his head held high.

Johnson often found himself under siege, the Blues tossing the puck around with confidence and inundating him with 40 shots, an unsettling percentage of the high-quality variety.

"He gave us a chance,'' said coach Glen Gulutzan, clearly weary of watching the same script play out. "He made some saves.

"We hung him out to dry. Pretty simple."

At 1-4-1, the need to get their problems sorted out only intensifies.

The Flames practice Sunday at the 'Dome before boarding a flight to Chicago and a Monday date against the Blackhawks.

Tuesday, they head to St. Louis, the Scottrade Centre and an opportunity to atone for Saturday night.

A daunting double-header, to say the least.

In the Calgary dressing room post-game, that term Versteeg used, puck management, was a familiar refrain.

Or, more accurately, mis-management.

The Flames were officially tagged with 15 giveaways, three by defenceman Dougie Hamilton.

Both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau wound up minus-4. Captain Mark Giordano suffered through an uncharacteristic off night.

"Pretty simple,'' said Stajan. "We scored four goals. Whether you're up by three or down by three, or two or it's a one-goal game, you can't turn the puck over.

"Their last two goals before the empty-net were turnovers. They came down and scored.

"That doesn't change. I've played a long time in this league and if you do that you're not going to win."

The Flames actually led 2-1 on goals 35 second apart to open the second period: Versteeg's first of the evening and a Bill Buckner-at-first-base whiff by Blues' goaltender Jake Allen, who bent down and missed trying to scoop up an innocuous Micheal Ferland backhander from well out.

St. Louis then reeled off four on the trot, David Perron kicking up to his stick, forcing Johnson into a wondrous save. But from a tight angle, with the Flames' netminder down, Perron cooly slotted the puck upstairs.

Six minutes later, with Giordano serving the front end of an interference-unsportsmanlike double, Paul Statsny tipped a shot past Johnson that required a video review to confirm.

The puck, shot by Alexander Steen before being tipped, was in and out that fast.

On the Blues' fourth goal, ex-Oiler Nail Yakupov stormed past Giordano at the Calgary blueline, faked Dennis Wideman down attempting to cut off a passing lane, dipped adroitly past the sliding D-man and then slung a superb backhand pass cross-ice to Patrik Berglund.

The finish, given the quality of the set-up, was mere formality.

"I mean, it's too many individual errors tonight,'' said Giordano. "I take responsibility for that (unsportsmanlike) one. That's a terrible penalty to take, even if you don't agree with the ref, just go to the box.

"And the next goal was my fault, too.

"As a guy that's been around, you've got to try and calm yourself, settle the team.

"That was disappointing tonight from me."

Down and apparently out, the Flames rallied on a Giordano missile at 9:31 of the third period and Versteeg, finishing off an offensive-zone face-off win from Sean Monahan, at 15:06.

But with Jay Bouwmeester off for tripping Sam Bennett at 15:30, Calgary's power play came up empty again.

Blues' Steen salted away the W by pounding a slapshot into an empty Calgary net - Johnson on the bench in favour of an extra attacker - at 19:21.

"We've gotta find … something,'' grumbled Stajan in quiet exasperation.

"It's gotta be desperation.

"We know the mistakes we're making. We work hard and clean that stuff up, it'll take care of itself.

"But right now we're trying to make the perfect play. I don't think we can, to a man, say that we've played well enough to win."

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