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Flames return to ice with sense of urgency

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY -- With a rare three-day break over the weekend, the Calgary Flames held their annual charity poker tournament on Saturday night at a local casino.

But even with straights and full houses, the talk still centered on the Flames -- and how they've royally flushed themselves out of playoff territory.

"Everyone talks about hockey the whole time," center Craig Conroy told the Calgary Sun. "Unless you get a table that's a little forgiving, it can be a lot of talking about hockey. That's what they're there for. You're not getting away from it 100 percent."

No, the Flames' predicament has definitely been the talk of the town over the past three weeks.

With just one win in nine games, and a six-game losing skid -- including a 9-1 pancaking at the hands of the host San Jose Sharks on Jan. 18 -- the Flames (26-19-6) completed a plunge all the way from third down to ninth place overall in the West on Thursday night.

They've since crept back up to eighth in the conference, thanks to a loss by the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, but for a club that was expected to challenge for the Western Conference title before the season began, January's slide into outsider status had a bracing effect on the players.

"Today, you're out of the playoffs," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester told reporters over the weekend. "There should have been a sense of urgency before, but now it's staring you right in the face. The way it is, it's so tight, if you're not winning, someone's jumping by you. And when you lose six in a row, there's probably a lot of teams that are going to do that.

"We're still right there. So if we turn it around, start playing the way we know we can … hopefully, this is the lowest of the lows and we can get on with it."

Heading into Monday night's home game against the St. Louis Blues (22-21-8), the Flames had lost six straight for the first time since November 2002, and had scored just 15 times in nine outings.

But on a brighter note, the Flames play 11 games before the NHL breaks for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics -- and eight of those are against teams currently out of the playoff picture.

"You want to stay upbeat," defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "But you want to be realistic, too. You can't always be so positive that you sweep things under the rug, and … don't deal with it.

"I think it's important to deal with the issues we have. The last couple of days, we've been able to work on things, talk about things. Now, the tough part is going out there and doing things.

"We've talked about it. Now, it's time for us to go out there and fix it."

The offensive silence from numerous Flames has been getting deafening. Bouwmeester and Eric Nystrom have gone 33 games without a goal, while Dion Phaneuf (16), Jarome Iginla (10) and Daymond Langkow (9) haven't lit the lamp in a while, either. Forward Nigel Dawes had been on a 17-game goalless drought when he injured his leg Thursday during a 3-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.

It's often said that a person's character is measured in challenging times. What does coach Brent Sutter see in his team?

"The right things have been said. Things have been done. We've gone through a lot of the same things. Now, it's time to perform," Sutter told on Monday morning.

"We've had way too much inconsistency in individuals' play. It's affected our team play. We need a huge will to win here tonight from every guy -- and that has to be continuous, not just a one-day thing here.

"It's not a good feeling, being where we're at. It's been disappointing, let's face it. But there's reasons why it happens. We're dealing with those, and now it's time to execute."

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