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Calgary Flames looking for a spark at home after a slow start to season

The team that was picked to finish top three in the Western Conference has gotten off to a slow start at 2-4-1. After a three-point road swing through Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Boston, the Flames are back home for a relatively cushy schedule of three games over eight days at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The struggling Phoenix Coyotes, who are in last place in the Pacific Division as the Flames are in the Northwest, are in town Tuesday.

The Nashville Predators are in Calgary Saturday followed by the Washington Capitals, another floundering team, next Tuesday.

It's time to take advantage of the schedule and generate some momentum, says Flames defenceman Andrew Ference.

"It's a chance to start climbing up the ladder in the standings," Ference said Monday.

"You look at what other teams in our conference are doing. They're having successful trips out east unlike ours. They're just gaining points on us.

"These next three games are a real focus, just to have home games, have points and get ourselves back into a respectable position."

The Flames' special teams have not been respectable, with the power-play the second-worst in the NHL at three goals in 44 chances, and the penalty kill among the bottom four.

"The numbers have been pretty brutal," Ference said. "Just to get back into the middle of pack, that's where you have to be if you are going to have any chance, especially with the new rules."

Calgary was guilty in its two losses and overtime loss on the road of giving up momentum-killing goals early and late in periods, allowing the opposition to win the majority of faceoffs and letting goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff see more than 30 shots a game.

"We pretty much need to improve every part of our game," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said.

The Coyotes had been shut out two games in a row heading into Monday night's tilt in Edmonton against the Oilers, but Ference wasn't expecting to see a softened up opposition Tuesday.

"We know they have a lot of good personality on their team and guys who can put the puck in the net, guys who can bang, so we're not looking at a wounded animal," he said.

Defensive centre Stephane Yelle is on the shelf with a sprained ankle and fractured leg bone he suffered in Thursday's game against Boston, meaning more ice time for Byron Ritchie on the checking line.

Winger Alex Tanguay has been moved off the second forward trio and reunited with Iginla and Daymond Langkow on the top line, while veteran winger Jeff Friesen is now with centre Matthew Lombardi and winger Chuck Kobasew.

The firing of Philadelphia Flyers' head coach Ken Hitchcock and resignation of Flyers' GM Bob Clarke after that team's 1-6-1-0 start Sunday created barely a ripple in the Flames' dressing room Monday.

Flames head coach Jim Playfair, promoted to the position during the off-season when GM Darryl Sutter gave him the job, says little patience is afforded to teams early in the season.

"They didn't have to fire Hitch to figure that out," Playfair said. "It's important to be going (well) early."

Winger Darren McCarty said with some irritation that the Flames don't worry about similar changes in light of their own poor start.

"I don't even think it's a comparable situation," he said. "They've had some teams in the past who are supposed to have done better than they have.

"It seems like that tenure had run through. This one is just starting. I think it's totally unfair to even compare."



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