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Flames set to begin three-game home stretch

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames
As a group, the Calgary Flames know they need to be strong defensively every game. They have to be good on the power play. And the penalty kill has to be near perfect. For the most part, that's what the team did to get back into the playoff hunt when they ran off six straight wins on the road and garnered points in 10 straight games this month.

Those characteristics didn't fall into place in Vancouver Thursday when the Flames road win streak was halted and, for the first time in December, they lost in regulation, 5-3 to Vancouver.

"We weren't as good as we should have been defensively. It's one game. Things are getting better. We are moving up in the standings," said captain Jarome Iginla, looking forward to three home games over the remainder of the holiday season, beginning with Saturday's game against Anaheim at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

"We have some games at home here right away. You leave (the Vancouver game). It wasn't what we wanted. There is a chance over the next couple of games to get feeling good."

One glance at the NHL standings and you understand where Iginla is coming from -- wins are critical as leapfrogging is the way of the west when it comes to the standings. After Thursday's loss the Flames are five points out of first in the Northwest Division and in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"It's that close. After the stretch that we had we're back in it. It is going to be close for a lot of teams. Except for Detroit, I think every team is catchable right down to the 12th spot. It's not something that surprises us. A win moves you up. And that's why they feel extra good because you are moving over a team or two. The losses feel a little worse because you are moving back and teams are sliding ahead of you. It's that close. It's important to stay positive and get back here and start building something at home.

"We lost a four point game and we haven't beat Vancouver this season. It stings. We look at the standings and we wanted something different, we expected something different. But we have to get ready for Anaheim. You look at it and they are right beside us in the standings. We have done a lot of good things over the last 10 games. You have to remember those things and get back into it."

The Flames have lost two straight in overtime at home, where they have a 7-7-6 record.

They are now in the midst of playing six games in 10 days, including two on the road.

"We have six games in 10 days with a little travel in there so we have a fairly demanding schedule in there," said head coach Mike Keenan.

The coach wasn't happy with the loss in Vancouver but wasn't overly concerned, either, noting that special teams made the difference.

"The only thing we fell off last night a little bit was our penalty-killing. The power play scored twice on the road. We gave up 20 shots on the road and put 32 on their net. If there was any deficiency it was giving them two power play goals. It was a two goal game so that was the difference. We gave up five goals on 20 shots. That's tough. You are not going to win many games giving up five goals on 20 shots," said Keenan.

Of course, during the daily media scrum, Keenan was asked about pulling goalie Miikka Kiprusoff after the Canucks fifth goal. He said there are plenty of reasons for pulling a goalie -- among them trying to spark the team. He also noted that Kiprusoff has played in all but one of the Flames games and been pulled twice and added that he plans to continue to use his No. 1 goalie as much as possible.

"I don't talk to the goalies about the technical aspect of their games. I leave that to the goalie coach. I talk to them about their play and their rest and recovery," said Keenan. "We just go one day at a time."

NOTEWORTHY: D Rhett Warrener was back skating with the team on Friday and is ahead of schedule for his return from a high ankle sprain. "I think he is still at least a week away but he is probably a week or two ahead of schedule," said Keenan...The Flames host Anaheim Dec. 29, Vancouver Dec. 31 and the New York Rangers on Jan. 2 before taking a two-game trip to California.
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