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Tight race to the finish line for Flames

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

The dust has settled. Temporarily.

It's the annual NHL All-Star Game break and, of course, another time to reflect on Calgary's season thus far and look ahead to the final stretch.

We've had an interesting start to the season, starting out in a fair way and then have a real down month in November and then coming back with a brilliant month in December and having a pretty good run at it now throughout January - Mike Keenan

It's nothing short of claustrophobic in the Northwest Division where the Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks are separated by a smidgen on any given night.

At the break there are three points separating the top four teams in the division. To the north of Calgary there's the Edmonton Oilers who continue to hang in but, in all likelihood will be relegated to a spoiler role in the division, as they are five points back of fourth place Colorado.

When the Flames went to bed on Thursday, they were the top team in the division, holding down the third seed in the Western Conference.

When they awoke Friday morning, they were in second in the division, but sixth in the conference. Hence the importance that will be placed on winning the division -- there are simply no assurances that four teams from the same division, who play each other down the stretch, are going to be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

"We've had an interesting start to the season, starting out in a fair way and then have a real down month in November and then coming back with a brilliant month in December and having a pretty good run at it now throughout January," said head coach Mike Keenan. "Now we've got to take a break and get ready to really give a push in the second half of the season."

The Flames return to practice on Monday and then host San Jose on Wednesday to begin a slate of 32 games in 67 days.

"We're going to start our second half with fitness testing," said Keenan.

The rest will be nice for players with bangs and bruises. But the real test is about to come.

Of their 32 remaining games, the Flames have 13 games remaining against their divisional opponents, including nine straight to finish the season. Needless to say those 13 games will go a long way in deciding the fate of the Flames and others in the division.

It breaks down like this: The Flames play Minnesota, Vancouver, Colorado three more times and Edmonton four times. Currently the Flames record against the Northwest is 9-7-3.

Calgary finishes the season with 14 home games and 18 road games including one rather lengthy trip, five games and eight days in February. The Flames also finish with four on the road, all against the aforementioned Northwest Division teams.

MONTH BY MONTH

The Flames have certainly had their ups and downs on a month-to-month basis this season. But, based on the last two months, they have the train headed down the right track. The breakdown:

October: 6-3-3
November: 4-10-0
December: 9-1-4
January: 5-3-1 (one game remains)

STATS AND STUFF

Eric Godard continues to lead the team in penalty minutes with 105. Right on his heels is defenceman Dion Phaneuf with 93...The Flames special teams have improved as the season has progressed but they are still in the bottom half of the league. In fact just prior to the all-star break the Flames were ranked 20th in both the power play and penalty kill categories. The Flames power play has a 16.7 per cent success rate while the No. 1 in the league is Philadelphia, with a 25.2 per cent success rate. The San Jose Sharks lead the penalty killing parade with an 86 per cent kill rate while the Flames are at 80 per cent. While Jarome Iginla is captain of the Western Conference All-Star team, he has not scored in seven games and is stuck on 32. That will need to change if the Flames want to keep pace in the division.

MILESTONES WITHIN REACH

Jarome Iginla needs nine goals to become the Flames all-time leader, something he should achieve barring injury.

Kristian Huselius, in the midst of a career season, needs eight points for 300 in his career, another achievable milestone.

Owen Nolan needs just 10 points for 800 and should reach that mark depending on his health while defenceman Adrian Aucoin is 10 points away from 300 and, with the power play time he is now getting, should reach the plateau before the end of the season.

HOW THEY ARE BUILT

While the trade deadline in February 26 could change things, the Flames make-up consists of five draft picks, 13 players via trade and six free agents.

Draftees: Dustin Boyd, Matthew Lombardi, David Moss, Eric Nystrom and Dion Phaneuf.

Acquired in trades: Adrian Aucoin, Craig Conroy, David Hale, Kristian Huselius, Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Marcus Nilson, Wayne Primeau, Robyn Regehr, Alex Tanguay, Stephane Yelle and Rhett Warrener.

Free agent signings: Anders Eriksson, Eric Godard, Curtis Joseph, Owen Nolan, Cory Sarich and Mark Smith.

And, just in case you were wondering, there are 16 Canadians, four Americans, three Swedes and one Finn on the team.

 

 

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