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'TAKE OUR GAME TO THEM'

Derek Ryan and the Flames focusing on fast start for Thursday's tilt with the Panthers

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

There's little to be gained in comparing results, year over year.

The team, the schedule, the makeup and class of your opponents are all variables that lack any relevance to the current state of affairs.

Still, when your average, autumn record mirrors that of a season ago, it's impossible not to take notice and draw conclusions.

Both positive and negative.

Through 11 games this year, the Flames are 5-5-1. Last year at this time? The same.

The Flames - we need not remind - went on to win to Pacific Division title and finish first in the West with the second-best record in franchise history.

"There's definitely a similarity," Derek Ryan said - not in the record itself, but the way it's gone down. "Kind of like last year, we're not playing to our potential early on.

"But there's a lot of hockey to be played. I mean, we've barely scratched the surface.

"We don't like to compare years because there's almost no value in that, but we know what we have in here. We know the character of this group, and the talent we have. The fact that it was around this time last year when we kind of flipped the switch is comforting, because we've done it before.

"Nothing's automatic, so we're not sitting around waiting for that to happen, but we know we can turn this in the right direction."

 

 

The Flames have done that in spurts this year, winning three of their first five home games and showing great resolve with some gritty, bounce-back efforts on the road.

But consistency has plagued them, with only a single, two-game winning 'streak' to speak of between the one step forward, one step back route they're in the midst of now.

The 'full 60' having eluded them so far, the Flames have spent the majority of the young season playing catch-up.

"We talk about that a lot in our dressing room that we need to get out there and have a good start, first of all, and try to get that first goal," Ryan said. "Especially against certain teams in this league.

"Some teams can sit back and lock it down - and that uphill climb is tough, it's taxing, and wears on you, especially when you're playing the amount of hockey that we have been to start the season.

"It's definitely not ideal. We need to get to a lead and take our game to them."

Therein lies the rub.

While the first goal doesn't guarantee victory, it does allow YOU to set the pace, the tone.

"We want to be playing better," said head coach Bill Peters. "We want the process to evolve quicker, but we've got to stay with it. There's only so much you can do. Today was a good day to practice, a good video session (on the) things we've got to do better and get back to, and make sure they're part of our routine every game.

"We've got room to improve and we're well aware of that, and we'd like to see it tomorrow night."

 

Video: "You ... have to enjoy the environment, it's special"

 

Over the past year, the Flames built a reputation on third-period comebacks, but they were also notorious for their quick starts and explosive offence, which allowed them to play with a lead, more often than not, and dictate the flow.

Playing from behind changes the game-plan, puts additional stress on the team's top players, and highlights every little mistake in your own end, despite the reality of having to take chances to make the ascent.

Players often talk about gripping their stick too tight, and Ryan agrees that could be a by-product of the team's game now.

"Kind of like Washington, if they get a one or two-goal lead on you, it's tough to fight back," he said. "We did last night, but we couldn't keep the momentum going. Maybe it took a lot out of us to get back in it. Hard to say. But we didn't have a great third period when, really, we were only 20 minutes away from putting together a really solid effort.

"That's kind of what it comes down to: Complete efforts. We've had bits and pieces of good games, last night included. I know that's a cliché - totally overused in the sport. But it's true. When we play to our potential this year, we're a tough team to beat. But when you only put together one or two periods at a time, it's not enough."

So, how do you fix it?

Easy.

"You go to work," Ryan said. "We're a hard-working team. We have the talent, and we have the work ethic to bring everything together.

"When things aren't going your way, you don't put your hands in the air - you have trust in your team and put in the work."

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