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Searching for a balance

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- A few days into the month of December the Calgary Flames are still searching for that seemingly-elusive balance in their power play.

The difference between their power play in the Scotiabank Saddledome and in other team's barns is startling.

The Flames sit fourth in the NHL when it comes to their power play on the road. Only Colorado (35.3 percent), Vancouver (27.9 percent), and Chicago (24.5 percent) top them. They have connected on 10 of their 42 chances on the road, good for a 23.8 percent success rate.

At home, it is another story. The Flames sit dead last in the League, clicking just 4.4 percent of the time. They have mustered two goals in 45 opportunities with the man-advantage, with their last tally coming on Oct. 26 when Rene Bourque scored the game winner in a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Their success in other area codes has propped them up to 24th in the NHL on the power play. They have slowly climbed up the ladder in that regard - at one point they were sitting 28th overall - but they need to pick up the pace at home if they want to continue that ascent.

What has made them successful on the road? They simply out-work the penalty killers. They are constantly roaming around the zone, moving, and making it very difficult for the opposition to put pressure on the puck. By forcing the penalty killers to keep shifting from one player to another, they wear them down quickly.

That kind of aggressive, movement-laden power play was on display in Edmonton on Saturday night when they converted on two of their three power plays, one of which was the game winner.

While Oilers forward Ryan Smyth watched helplessly from the sin bin, Jarome Iginla took advantage of a dead-tired Jeff Petry's fall at the blueline. He threw the puck up to a streaking Mikael Backlund, who shuttled the feed through Nikolai Khabibulan's pads.

At home, their time with the man-advantage often looks forced. Instead of going with the "get the most shots on net as possible," approach, they fall into the trap of trying to make a pretty play or trying to find the perfect shot on net.

They don't move their feet and that lack of movement ends up enabling the other team to get in on the puck and move it out of the zone.

While last season didn't see such a drought in scoring on the power play at home, the Flames still struggled in the early stages of the campaign. They didn't have a power play goal at home in 2010-11 season until Nov. 5 when Bourque scored the Flames lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

However, thanks to their midseason turnaround, the Flames ended the year sitting second in the League in terms of their home power play record. They connected on 41 of their 160 chances at the Saddledome and climbed to eighth overall with the man-advantage thanks to their strong record in Calgary.

Head coach Brent Sutter has been working tirelessly with his troops and has utilized a wide variety of drills in practice in hopes of sparking them.

At one point in November, he deployed six penalty killers in lieu of the usual four to ensure his power play units were indeed moving their feet. He's switched up power play units, alternating point men and placing new bodies out there as he looks for the right combination. And he has devoted many a practice solely to special teams.

Time will only tell if these methods will ultimately kick-start the Flames tepid offence at home but last season's success is definitely a positive sign.

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