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Calgary Flames can't find that extra gear

Dallas Stars' Loui Eriksson scores on Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary, March 4, 2012.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

In the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster talked about intellectual honesty and the need to realistically assess where the team is at, instead of delude themselves about the possibilities.

After Sunday's loss to the Dallas Stars, here's the answer: just not good enough.

They try and they try and they try. They work and they work and they work. They can go an entire game without giving up a five-on-five goal (as they did Sunday), but get sloppy short-handed once and then surrender a power-play goal. Even so, the Stars needed a shootout to get the extra point in a 3-2 victory.

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When the Flames fail to make the playoffs again this year, that will be the stat everyone seizes upon – a 4-12 record in extra time.

In the 16 games that have gone beyond 60 minutes, the Flames emerged with the bonus point just four times. It's 12 points they've left on the table, and even if they'd simply split those games, they'd be in the thick of the race, rather than three points back of the eighth-place San Jose Sharks, who have two games in hand.

Trying to put a finger on why some teams excel in the shootout and why others struggle is like trying to quantify luck.

Do you make your own luck? Or is there some randomness to the process? The NHL introduced the shootout in 2005-06 coming out of the last lockout, and the Flames have been bad at it since the get-go, 27th in the NHL in that span, with 26 wins in 64 tries. Only the Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers are worse.

Last year, however, there was an aberration in Calgary, caused mainly by one player. Alex Tanguay tied an NHL record for single-season shootout goals – 10 in 16 tries, and four were game deciders. René Bourque had five shootout goals; no one else had more than one.

Bourque is now with the Montreal Canadiens, who visit the Scotiabank Saddledome Tuesday night. The player for whom he was traded, Michael Cammalleri, will not be in the Calgary lineup because of an undisclosed upper-body injury.

This year in the shootout, Tanguay is 1-for-7, and he and Olli Jokinen were both stopped by Dallas's Kari Lehtonen on Sunday. Dallas is 9-5 in extra time, Calgary 4-12. If it were as simple as a flip of the coin, a 50-50 proposition, then look at how 50-50 would change things. Dallas goes to 7-7, Calgary to 8-8. Calgary gains four extra points, Dallas loses two, and what do you know? The standings flip-flop completely and now Calgary is in the playoff mix and Dallas isn't.

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And one of the other contenders in the West, the Colorado Avalanche, are in it, only because their shootout/overtime record is a sparkling 12-4. New Jersey is tops in the league (14-5), largely because Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are having exceptional shootout seasons.

Next week, the NHL's general managers meet in Florida and except for a few lone voices in the wilderness, the concept of changing the way they track points in the standings isn't going to be a major discussion point. The GMs might try to extend overtime to 10 minutes instead of five, and play three-on-three so fewer games go to the shootout. Until (or even if) that happens, teams can spend more time practising the shootout, develop shootout specialists who can come to the rescue when these games occur, or invest in a better collection of rabbit's feet.

Flames captain Jarome Iginla was saying all the right things heading into the Montreal game – how Calgary has 16 games left, a possible 32 points on the table, and if they earn 22 points in that stretch, then maybe they can qualify. It doesn't look as if it'll require 97 points this year the way it did last year in the West, which is why 12 teams think they're still challenging and Calgary is one of them.

But getting back to intellectual honesty. How can a team without a distinct No. 1 centre, without any meaningful secondary scoring, and with a defence that produces virtually no offence, expect that over 82 games it'll somehow magically come together? It doesn't, and it hasn't for a couple of years, and no amount of wishing and hoping or praying is going to change that.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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