The Flame game

Thanks to a series of recent playoff disappointments, there will be no cause for celebration in Calgary until the Flames toast at least one or two opponents in the post-season.

That said, Cowtown’s Saddleheads have to be pretty happy with how the first half of the season has unfolded, from goalie Miikka Kiprusoff’s consistently solid play, to the emergence of Rene Bourque, to how awesome the Flames look in those retro red and yellow uniforms.

Secondary scoring – meaning anybody not named Jarome Iginla getting goals – has been a sticking point in recent years for Calgary, a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since making the 2004 final.

And while center Olli Jokinen’s production continues to underwhelm, Bourque has stepped up in a big way, depositing 14 goals and 34 points in 35 games after showing signs he could make a real impact as a top-six forward last year.

The Flames, at times in the past, seemed bent on forcing an on-ice kinship between Jokinen and Iginla, but coach Brent Sutter has them on separate lines right now and it’s paid off with a four-game winning streak.

But the real concern in Calgary remains whether the Flames have the team to take four-of-seven from some of the Western Conference’s finest come spring. 

1 San Jose Sharks 8 27-8-7 8-1-1 Eight straight wins has San Jose rolling
2 Chicago Blackhawks 3 29-10-3 8-2-0 Duncan Keith could very well hit 70 points this year, smashing his previous career high of 44 set last season
3 New Jersey Devils 2 29-10-1 8-2-0 No goals for Travis Zajac in a dirty dozen games now
4 Buffalo Sabres 7 26-11-4 6-2-2 Ryan Miller has to be the NHL’s MVP at the half
5 Calgary Flames 11 24-12-5 5-4-1 Miikka Kiprusoff is playing his best hockey since winning the 2006 Vezina Trophy
6 Colorado Avalanche 9 24-13-6 7-3-0 Avs are 14-2-6 in one-goal games this year
7 Nashville Predators 6 25-14-3 7-3-0 Nashville going with the good ol’ goalie rotation between Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne right now
8 Washington Capitals 4 24-11-6 5-5-0 Michal Neuvirth’s strong play in goal could have interesting implications on the Caps crease when Semyon Varlamov returns from a groin injury
9 Pittsburgh Penguins 1 26-16-1 4-6-0 Five-game losing streak represents a little strife for the defending champs
10 Phoenix Coyotes 10 25-14-4 6-2-2 Leading goal-scorer Scottie Upshall left Saturday’s loss to the Red Wings with a lower-body injury and there was no immediate word on the seriousness of the ailment
11 Vancouver Canucks 14 25-16-1 7-2-1 Henrik and Daniel Sedin led the NHL in scoring in December, the first brother duo to pull that trick since Henri and Maurice Richard in 1957
12 Los Angeles Kings 5 24-15-3 5-5-0 Will play seven straight at home after Monday’s game in San Jose, giving the team a chance to climb back up the standings
13 Boston Bruins 16 21-12-7 5-3-2 Congrats to the Bruins for hosting what many are already calling the best Winter Classic yet
14 Detroit Red Wings 19 21-14-6 6-3-1 Hard to think of Detroit as a dark horse, but we’ll see what happens over the course of the year as the Wings get some bodies back
15 Ottawa Senators 12 22-16-4 6-4-0 Did an Olympic snub spur Alex Kovalev’s four-goal showing on Sunday versus the Flyers?
16 Dallas Stars 13 18-12-11 4-4-2 One of the league’s healthiest teams, the Stars need to string some wins together to build some momentum in this up-and-down season
17 Tampa Bay Lightning 28 16-15-10 5-4-1 Mike Smith re-emerges as the No. 1 man in Tampa’s net
18 Montreal Canadiens 22 21-20-3 6-4-0 Andrei Markov returns to the Habs lineup after missing 35 games and posts 11 points in nine contests as the Canadiens’ power play shoots to No. 1 in the league
19 Philadelphia Flyers 27 19-19-3 4-4-2 Need to be a much better club in the second half to come close to pre-season expectations
20 New York Rangers 25 19-17-5 5-2-3 Ryan Callahan looked like a guy ready to fire 30 goals in the NHL, but he’ll be lucky to hit 20 this year
21 New York Islanders 23 17-18-8 5-4-1 Six goals for Kyle Okposo is nowhere near what the team needs from this kid
22 Minnesota Wild 15 20-19-3 5-5-0 Fourteen of Minny’s next 15 games are against Western foes, so wins are essential if the team is to push for the playoffs
23 Anaheim Ducks 20 16-19-7 4-6-0 Only Carolina has fewer wins on the road than Anaheim’s five
24 Florida Panthers 17 17-18-7 5-4-1 Sounds like David Booth will be back this season, but nobody is quite sure when
25 St. Louis Blues 24 17-18-6 3-6-1 Andy Murray pulled off a second-half miracle in St. Louis last year, but management obviously didn’t think he could do it again and fired the now-former Blues bench boss
26 Toronto Maple Leafs 21 14-19-9 3-5-2 Leafs take a big hit up the middle with injuries to Mikhail Grabovski (broken wrist) and Wayne Primeau (knee)
27 Atlanta Thrashers 18 18-17-6 1-6-3 With every loss – and they’ve dropped eight straight – questions about the future of pending UFA Ilya Kovalchuk amplify
28 Carolina Hurricanes 29 11-23-7 4-5-1 Let the Ray Whitney trade watch officially begin
29 Edmonton Oilers 26 16-22-4 1-9-0 At least prospect Jordan Eberle is having another great tournament at the world juniors with Canada
30 Columbus Blue Jackets 30 15-19-9 1-6-3 Have managed just one goal in eight of their past 12 contests
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The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 each Monday based on a combination of last week’s play and a squad’s overall outlook.

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