Flames Choke On Home Ice Again

Blow Two Goal Lead; Give Up Four Straight Markers

January 30th, 2004

The most important homestand of the season.

The most important game in the most important homestand of the season.

Thus Calgary assistant coach Jim Playfair described a game against a Chicago team facing its 20th loss in a row on the road, a contest that might have been another just another drudge match in a long, relentless season in another era.

Yet that's the state of today's highly competitive NHL where kicking a desperate team when its already writhing on the ground takes on an alarming state of priority, winning and losing such a match perhaps the difference in ending a streak of seven consecutive seasons out of the post-season for Calgary.

That point was reinforced when the Flames started the game in seventh place in the NHL's Western Conference, were in 8th place before the end of the second period and might have lifted themselves into fifth spot overall with a victory.

In what could only be described as a pure choke job by the local boys, however, Calgary folded like a cheap tent in a light breeze, allowing the Hawks four straight goals in a demoralizing 5-3 loss to the worst team in the Western Conference.

It was the second straight quitting performance by the Flames on home ice, losing 6-2 to Tampa a week ago but a more distressing folderoo this time given Calgary was up 3-1 and firmly in charge late into the second period before apparently figuring the Hawks would take the rest of the night off.

The loss leaves Calgary at 25-19-4-3 on the season, stopped at 57 points and now entrenched in eighth place in the West, just one point ahead of idle Los Angeles.

Calgary breaks a monotonous habit of alternating victories with losses, now losing two in a row for the first time since early January.

Flames finish January, identified as the toughest month on the schedule by coach Darryl Sutter, with a record of 6-8-1 with four more home games to start February.

In spiraling into the toilet in embarrassing fashion in this game, the Flames handed Chicago everything they got on a silver platter, a combination of less-than-clutch goaltending from starter Roman Turek as well as soft play all over the ice that eventually resulted in critical bonehead and costly mistakes.

"It doesn't only feel like the monkey is off our back, it feels like the zoo is off our back," said a vastly relieved Hawks Steve Sullivan after the game, the first time Chicago had come back in the third period to win in 27 games.

After the Flames had taken a 3-1 edge on a Jarome Iginla rocket from just inside the Chicago blueline, the Hawks took the first step in their comeback when Alexei Zhamnov fired into a crowd in front of Turek and the loose rebound was batted in by Tuomo Ruutu at 16:40 of the second.

In an ongoing epic scenario in which the Flames seemed stunned the Hawks would actually be still putting up a fight, Oleg Saprykin's lazy penalty resulted in Tyler Arnason gaining an easy tap off a Bryan Berard slapper, nary a Flame displaying any interest in Arnason cruising into the slot at 4:05 of the third period.

Sullivan then finished off a great pass from Mark Bell at the side of the Flames net at 5:53 before Denis Gauthier was caught napping at the Calgary line, allowing Bell to complete a two on one with Sullivan at 10:20, killing the Flames for good.

"There were a lot of guys who were just tired and wanted to finish it (the road losing streak)," said Sullivan of the gut check in the Chicago dressing room after the second period.

For Turek there was no good news in this game as his counterpart at the other end of the ice, while giving up a soft one to Iginla to make the score 3-1, stood on his head the rest of the way while the beleaguered Calgary netminder couldn't find a single critical save to give his team any kind of hope.

"We know he (Turek) likes to give up rebounds and we threw pucks at the net and got in there," said Sullivan.

While its true his teammates all but disappeared in surrendering 34 shots to a team that had played the night before and had lost 19 straight on the road, it would also be fair to say Turek did nothing to stem the Chicago tide.

But it didn't stop there.

Yet again we look at a Flames team that wins when it gives up 23 or fewer shots but is now giving up 30 or more with increasing frequency and losing as a result.

"Any team that gives up a 3-1 lead in the NHL can't blame the goaltender for that," said Playfair on FAN960 after the game, correctly pointing to a series of mistakes made before each of the four Hawks goals that eventually gave Chicago the win. "If you break the goals down, more often than not, they were neutral zone turnovers. In five, six, seven games, that's as poor as we've played in five on five situations."

"Bottom line is we're not playing good enough defence as a 21 man roster."

There is probably no clearer indication than this particular game that Sutter misses dearly his number one defensive man, Stephane Yelle, out with a leg injury, but also felt the absence of Rhett Warrener, also missing this game with a busted face.

In Sutter's universe, his third line centre would have taken control of this game after the Flames had jumped ahead 3-1 just as he did so often in the first half of this season.

The loss overshadowed Iginla scoring twice, the last goal moving him ahead of Kent Nilsson on the into fourth place on the Flames all time scoring list, as well as some outstanding offensive work by Craig Conroy earlier in the game.

Flames scored once in three power play opportunities while Chicago added one on four chances.

Calgary directed 33 shots at Passmore.

Next up is the next critical game, this one against Anaheim on Sunday afternoon, the latest must win contest in what will undoubtedly be a series of them before this season finally winds down.





1) Steve Passmore - A weak goal on Iginla but damned fine the rest of the way with a dozen or so terrific saves from close quarters.

2) Jarome Iginla - Two goals and an assist to put them up 3-1, a plus two on the night and 21:24 of ice time.

3) Steve Sullivan - One of the game's wonderful small players took advantage of all the space the Flames gave him, with a goal and an assist.

With the score 3-1 and the Flames pressing, Conroy passed cross-ice to Jordan Leopold who cradled the puck for a moment then launched a rocket from 15 feet only to find Passmore's glove sweeping high short side for a critical save. Moments later , Ruutu scored to begin the Hawks comeback.

In a classic case of too little too late, Robyn Regehr hoisted Mark Bell into the glass with a thundering hit with only three minutes remaining. Had the Flames been as physical through the rest of the game this might have ended with a win.

"I just don't want to use Roman Turek as an excuse as to why our team is playing standing still," said Playfair. "It's just not about Roman." . . . . "He hasn't played anywhere near his capabilities," Playfair said of Chuck Kobasew although adding his young charge has brought his energy level up considerably since returning from injury. . . . . Andrew Ference, cruelly dissed by Sutter only last week, led the Flames in ice time with 25:08. Nathan Dempsey led the Hawks with 23:02. . . . . Flames were 53% in the faceoff circle after a slow start, Conroy leading the way with 61%. Zhamnov was 53% for the Hawks.

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