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Flames Watch: Flames still searching for Sutter-style

Make no mistake, this is not a Brent Sutter hockey team.

What you see now out of the Calgary Flames is not what you’ll see in a few weeks or months depending upon how long it takes for the message to sink in.

The Flames stand a respectable/disappointing (you pick the word) 7-4-1 after 12 games and have plenty of room to grow. Learning new systems, establishing a consistent work ethic and conditioning players to rest on the bench, not the back check, takes plenty of imprinting.

Sometimes a team snaps to attention and executes to perfection under a new coach (see Dan Bylsma and the Pittsburgh Penguins), sometimes it never does (see Mike Keenan and the Flames the past two seasons) and sometimes it’s expected to take a while.

The New Jersey Devils under rookie NHL coach Sutter finished sixth overall in 2007-08. But it wasn’t smooth sailing in October. The Devils started that season with just three wins in Sutter’s first 10 games and the team was outscored 34-22.

It wasn’t until Game No. 20 that New Jersey hit a groove. At 7-10-2, the Devils rattled off nine straight wins and the players became believers. New Jersey was among league leaders in fewest goals against and fewest shots allowed.

Team defense became a lifestyle, not a game plan. That’s not yet the case in Calgary. Team defense is currently the hurdle.

The mental block about a total commitment to team defense is realizing it doesn’t have to come at the expense of offensive opportunity. No doubt Sutter is repeating the old axiom of good team defense creating chances if the transition game is strong.

Right now, the Flames rank 20th in the league in shots allowed (30.3 per game) and a horrendous 28th in shots taken (25.2 per game). That proves Calgary isn’t doing a very good job of limiting opponent’s chances, nor are they spending a lot of time on the attack.

It would be easier to accept one high ranking if the other was low. Sutter wouldn’t accept it, but at least it would be progress.

As it stands, the Flames are allowing more shots and taking fewer through a dozen games than either of the Keenan years. And that is what’s totally unacceptable and bound to change as we approach the pivotal quarter pole.

This article aslo appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to You can find his blog each weekend.

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