Johnson: Flames trying to figure out a way to get off the road to ruin
With seven-straight road losses, Calgary heads to Nashville in dire need of two points
NASHVILLE — It’s been a hellish strip of overheated blacktop they’ve been travelling, running from the Arizona desert to St. Paul, Minn., from the majesty of the Rocky Mtns of Denver to the gently swaying palms and low-slung strip malls of a place fashioned out of a theme park bossed by a mouse. From the claustrophobic, criss-crossing freeways of downtown L.A. to the inviting, expansive skies of Texas.
The road to ruin.
A Jack Kerouac novel gone to seed.
“Seems like on the road,” sighed goaltender Joey MacDonald, “we start slow. Takes time to get going. At home we have the energy. I don’t know if it’s the energy of having the crowd behind us or what. But we start good. In the last L.A. game, first period we get down a couple and you can’t do that against any team in this league.
“You get down two or three and it’s tough to battle back. We do a great job battling back, but it’s just too hard on everybody. Everybody’s giving more than what they can and by the end of it . . .” The sentence faded away into nothingness, like so many vital road points.
“We’ve got to find a way to come out harder. You’ve got to come out ready to go.”
You’d like to think, given the stakes, that’d be a given.
Yet as the Calgary Flames endeavour to sort out their problems on the road, with second-time daddy Miikka Kiprusoff returned to the flock (and Danny Taylor summarily dispatched to Abbotsford), the self-inflicted damage is all too obvious.
We’re talking more than a month with nary a single victory outside the 403 area code. Not one. Seven games (0-6-1).
It’s killing them as sure as slowly, as insidiously, as a single spoonful of arsenic in the daily morning coffee.
The odd aspect of this mounting mess is that Bob ‘Artley’s bunch were, in fact, bemoaning a scruffy home record as this truncated season began to take shape. The Flames roared out to a 3-0-1 start on excursions away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, even if that seems nothing more than just a hazy memory at the moment.
“If you look at it, the last trip we didn’t win a game and we were playing some pretty good teams,” said defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, following Monday’s wrenching 4-3 loss at Dallas. “Didn’t play very well at times but at times did OK. But that’s sorta the way things have been on the road and, at times, at home. Lately at home we’ve gotten off to better starts and it’s gotten us off on the right foot.
“On the road, our starts, and our mindset, right from the start of the game (isn’t right).
“Something happens. Tonight the first one was a lucky bounce and we didn’t bounce back from that. We kind of let it snowball a little bit. It’s things like that, you just have to forget it and realize you’ve basically got the whole game in front of you. Simplify things. You’re on the road, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be pretty.
“Get pucks deep, make it hard on the other team.”
Right now, the Flames are only making it hard on themselves. If this is starting to have a Groundhog Day feel to it, well, join a queue that stretches back nearly four years, to the last playoff exposure this franchise has. The big team in town is back mimicking the great french mime artist Marcel Marceau’s Walking Against the Wind routine — seemingly moving forward but actually going nowhere. Four points out of the Top 8 one night. Five the next. Three. Then five again. And so on.
Forever chasing, always stalking, but precious little headway made.
For argument’s sake, let’s concede five very good teams — Chicago, Anaheim, L.A., St. Louis and Vancouver — playoff spots. That leaves three spots open for the likes of the Wings, Wild, Preds, Avs, ‘Yotes, Stars, Sharks, Oilers, Flames and, out of nowhere, the surging Blue Jackets.
That hellish strip of overheated blacktop has brought them here, to Music City, U.S.A., and then runs straight over to Ohio on Friday.
“Realistically,” said Bouwmeester, “we’re playing teams right there with us now. These are big games. You talk about not being able to make up ground, so you’ve gotta win the games against the teams that are right there. This trip’s huge. The next two, if we can get Nashville again and then Columbus, then all of a sudden you DO move up a little.
“With every loss, because of the position we got ourselves in at the start of the year, that just kind of magnifies it. We can’t get caught up in that.”
The issue won’t be going away until they can put together something resembling a string — or at the very least plunk down one win and end this — on their travels.
Rotten starts, as mentioned. Squandered leads. Late lapses. Defensive zone coverage that too often has a Keystone Cops cohesion to it. You name it, they’ve been guilty of it the last month.
Bouwmeester, though, wouldn’t venture so far as to say his club is in psychological disrepair on the road.
“I don’t know,” he hedged at the description ‘fragile’. “Everyone’s got their own opinion, but personally, no. I don’t think so. Shouldn’t be. Most guys in here have been playing long enough, been at this level long enough, to face that sort of adversity on an almost nightly basis. You should be able to deal with it. I guess we haven’t done a great job of dealing with it.
“You just hope it gets better.”
Hope being a commodity in ever-dwindling supply.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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