Flames at another crossroads after rough ending to Canucks series

Eric Francis explains that while the Calgary Flames have their issues, it's unrealistic to expect a monumental change to the roster to come during the season.

The coach questioned his players’ give-a-crap meter.

The fans are questioning the coach.

The players must be questioning one another.

So many questions surround the same old storylines for a Calgary Flames core that has had its intestinal fortitude and commitment questioned for years.

Nothing new here.

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The latest tempest in a teapot surrounds a 5-1 beatdown by the Vancouver Canucks that finished without any apparent pushback or emotion late in the proceedings. Outplayed in three of four games against a scuffling opponent coach Geoff Ward said afterwards, “it’s time for us to start giving a s— about it.”

Former Flame Rhett Warrener took it a step further on Sportsnet 960 The Fan’s morning show Thursday when he offered up a familiar refrain to blow up the core, equating it to the Flames team he played for in 2007-08 that has nothing to show for a group that included Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Owen Nolan.

“These guys keep proving they’re not a win at all costs team,” said Warrener.

It’s a long-running debate in Calgary where several current players have questioned the team’s compete level following any number of horrific starts over the last few weeks.

It’s a legitimate concern when, at this level, players aren’t putting forth a compete level befitting the money they’re paid.

And so, the fans lose their minds, the media asks tougher questions and the players try to pinpoint the problems and address how they’ll improve.

So far, they’ve paid little more than lip service to fixing what ails them the most – inconsistency.

It has certainly been a while since there’s been this much noise following a stretch in which the team has won four of six.

But in that stretch, the lads have peppered their play with significant stretches that have seen them outshot by 14 or more shots to open a game.

One of the more troubling issues surrounding the team has been its lack of identity, which players were asked to peg on Thursday.

Captain Mark Giordano and Milan Lucic both said they believe their team is a “checking team that can score.”

Despite the depth of their forward ranks, the team ranks 21st in goals per game and certainly isn’t known for its tenacity or doggedness. At least not consistently, which, again, is the crux of the Flames’ problems.

“It’s not that the team doesn’t give a crap, it’s that we need to find consistency in how hard we work – that’s a totally different issue for me than not giving a crap,” said Ward, clarifying his emotional response a night earlier.

“(Wednesday) night we had a tough night at the office, and we have to treat it the right way. I’m not sending out the message that I don’t believe in the team anymore or that we’re in trouble. As a bottom line in the game of hockey if you’re not prepared to win battles and win races it’s tough to win games, and that comes from work ethic and compete level. So when we’re looking for a place to start to get out of this that’s where we need to start.”

Well aware of the predictable criticism they’d wake up to Thursday, the Flames practised with a noted intensity as Johnny Gaudreau’s playlist cranked out the likes of Uncle Kracker at the Dome.

Keeping it light is seen as key in times like these, but the lads admitted afterwards they are indeed at a critical juncture with the Oilers on the slate the next two nights.

“This is a huge moment in our season for us,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who admitted he too would like to have seen a little more abrasiveness late in Wednesday’s shellacking.

“We’re going to get up for this game – it will be impossible not to. I think we have to show to one another we’re going to be ready from the drop of the puck. These next few games will show a lot, and tell us a lot about ourselves and what we have and where we are trending.”

Sure will, especially since they’ll play one of these two without their human safety net, Jacob Markstrom.

Oh, and with their lines in a blender.

“It’s not the first time it has happened, it seems like it’s a little bit of a common theme the last couple years but we’ve been able to get out of it with some stretches,” said Tkachuk of their latest mental slide

“It needs to become a tough team to play against every night, not every other night. At least live with the fact if you’re not winning every game you’re competing from the first minute to the last minute. I just want to be a competitive team every night and be the hardest team to play against in our division.”
If they can do it, there’s hope, as this is still one of the division’s top teams, if only on paper.

“We have a great team – the talent on our team, we’re right up there with anyone, and we have one of the best goalie tandems” said Giordano,” listing the type of ingredients that make their situation so frustrating.

“In the room we have a great group with guys who really like being together.”
Is it too comfortable? Too cushy?

Just two more questions to add to the list.

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