(CP) - The Colorado Avalanche are turning up the heat on the Flames, which will only ramp up those lingering rumours that Jim Playfair is in trouble as Calgary's head coach.
But general manager Darryl Sutter dismissed that talk Monday. "Every time the team has lost two in a row, that's become the speculation and the speculation is not valid, let's put it that way," Sutter said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "It's tight and it's close and that's the way it's supposed to be.
"And I think our coaches have done a really good job."
The streaking Avalanche, 8-0-1 in their last nine games, will be up the highway in Edmonton for back-to-back games in the Alberta capital Wednesday and Friday, hoping to further narrow the four-point gap on the Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
While the Avalanche take on the struggling Oilers this week, the Flames host Stanley Cup contenders Detroit on Tuesday and Nashville on Thursday.
What once seemingly looked like an insurmountable lead over Colorado in the Western Conference standings has shrunk to white-knuckle territory. But Sutter remains confident in his club.
"I said it at the start of the season, you looked at our (Northwest) division and said all five teams could be playoff teams and it's not possible for that to happen," said Sutter. "So that tells you how close it is.
"I take the other approach, we had a really poor start to our season and if you look at it, in our last 60 games we're 33-18-9. So that tells you how well everybody has played."
The Flames did indeed steady a rocky ship after a woeful start with some great hockey for most of the season. But they're 1-4-1 in their last six games while the Avs have rolled.
The offence, which had long been Calgary's Achilles heel in past seasons, is just fine, thank you. The Flames are sixth in the NHL goals per game. Where Sutter believes lies the problem is somewhat surprising given Calgary's reputation over the last decade.
"When we added more skill to our team, when you look in the difference between goals scored and goals against, I think defensively we haven't been as good," said Sutter. "And that has probably cost you three or four wins."
The Flames are still a respectable 11th in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.71, but compare that to last season when they were first overall at 2.35 - the stingiest team in hockey.
"I think the disparity in goals for does not upgrade you enough that you can give up half a goal or a quarter of a goal more a game," said Sutter. "That's what's it's still about, the top teams don't give up a lot."
Still, Sutter likes his team heading into the playoffs, although he finds it difficult to compare it to last year's Flames squad that was defeated in the first round by Anaheim in seven games.
"It's really hard to make that comparison because we have a more skilled team and quite honestly on paper, we're a much better team," said Sutter.