There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful even though it appears the sky is falling in on the Flames with two games left on their seven-game road trip.
It started out great with a win over Ottawa, the acquisition of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold, then a convincing road win in Philadelphia. But after consecutive losses to Carolina, Atlanta and New Jersey, the Vancouver Canucks are closing in on Calgary.
Here are a few things fans can remain positive about:
1. If Miikka Kiprusoff keeps letting in bad goals and getting pulled, focus will shift away from his quest for a record 50 wins and more towards the common sense approach of getting him a modicum of rest and recharge in time for the post-season.
2. Daymond Langkow returned to the line-up Tuesday and even though he was held without a point, his creativity and poise will help the second line. His defensive awareness will also help cut down the goals against. The Flames allowed 23 goals in a five-game stretch (4.6 goals per game) without Langkow.
3. The team is ratcheting back the ice time given to error-prone Dion Phaneuf. Once a league leader in time on ice, the defensively weak Phaneuf has slipped to fourth in the NHL at 26:39 per game. He has played six straight games below his average ice time. Phaneuf is still a minus-8, but his defensive laziness is less noticeable when he’s not over-worked.
4. Two more games and the road trip from hell is over. Seven road games in 12 days is inhumane. During one stretch, the Flames played three games in just 66 hours – in Philadelphia on a Thursday, Carolina on a Friday and Atlanta for a Sunday afternoon game.
5. As much as Matthew Lombardi dazzled with his speed and energy, fans won’t have to groan after all his missed scoring opportunities. His trade to Phoenix raises the fear he’ll now develop the way Marc Savard and Martin St-Louis did after leaving town. My bet is he’ll continue to confound on his way to 40 points a season.
6. With each passing day, the chemistry between Jokinen and Leopold and their teammates improve; and Rene Bourque and Todd Bertuzzi are that much closer to returning from injury.
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
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