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Flames culture questioned by players, agent as losses pile up

CALGARY — In a season that has been so tremendously beige, it has been getting harder and harder for Flames fans to remain engaged.

Apparently, the players feel the same way, mailing in a sad-sack effort Thursday that had their leaders questioning their emotional attachment.

“We need to play with more emotion,” spat Chris Tanev in a dressing room quieted by a 5-2 spanking, courtesy of the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.

“Obviously a must-win game and we didn’t show up in any aspect of the game.

“I’m supposed to be a leader, so I’ll take responsibility for not having everybody ready.”

Then came the money line, perfectly summing up the nausea-inducing ride Flames fans have been on.

“We’ve been a rollercoaster all year,” he started, “Good one game, suck the next. Good one game, suck the next.”

Turns out the Calgary Flames have far more than goaltending to worry about.

After weeks of intense debate over the need to replace Jacob Markstrom with Dan Vladar, the backup was finally given his chance Thursday.

It didn’t work.

Nothing did.

Asked if he saw goaltending as the main reason his team lost, Darryl Sutter was curt:

“Well, it certainly didn’t give us an opportunity to win, did it?”

The Red Wings’ fifth goal was the lone snipe you could easily hang on Vladar.

The rest came as part of a series of defensive miscues, brilliant passing and a seeing-eye shot that went through a defender.

Netminding wasn’t the story.

The sordid state of this team now takes centre stage, which made a post-game tweet from Jonathan Huberdeau’s agent, Allan Walsh, all the more interesting.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” began Walsh, who leads his brethren in dropped bombshells.

“Also, the negativity sucks the joy right out of players. Cc: @NHLFlames.”

The culture in Calgary has long been questioned under Sutter, whose intensity makes it hard for players to enjoy wins, let alone stomach losses like these.

One can only imagine the mood around the Dome these days as the Flames exhibit plenty of signs they may soon lose their grip on the perilous playoff perch they find themselves grasping at.

The goalie situation was a mere distraction compared to the speculation sure to follow Walsh’s suggestion the problems in Calgary go far deeper than the standings.

A story sure to gather steam, as people across southern Alberta continue to scratch their heads, wondering how a team so talented and deep on paper, can be so fragile on ice.

“I don’t know, it’s just getting a little old talking about it a lot of games,” sighed Mikael Backlund when asked about the team’s effort.

“I agree, it wasn’t good enough.

“Not a bad first period, but the jump and the juice wasn’t there the way we wanted, the way we want to play and the way we know we can play.

“If I had the answers we would have fixed it. But we know we can be better.”

Dillon Dube’s fourth goal in the last three outings tied the game 2-2 midway through the second, before the upstart Wings scored three unanswered to set the hosts on their perpetual heels.

When it appeared Dube’s goal would lift them, they collapsed soon thereafter.

A microcosm of the season.

“It’s been a frustrating year that way,” said Backlund of the team’s inability to gain any momentum.

“We came off the good start, couldn’t find it at home and were then chasing it on the road.

“It’s no excuse, but always harder to chase all year than to be in a top-three position.”

The chase continues Saturday against a Rangers team that brought plenty of life out of the lads at Madison Square Garden 11 days earlier in a 5-4 overtime loss that had many suggesting it was the league’s most entertaining game of the year.

Now might be a good time to piece together another one of those gems, or the speculation and frustration inside and outside the dressing room is destined to rise to, well, an intensity level the Flames have been lacking.


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