With tonight's 3-1 loss to a Blue Jackets team the Flames are chasing and have proven capable of beating in two previous games this season adding to another winless streak, you really have to begin to wonder if things are going to get any better for the Flames nearing the half-way point of the season, or if, as fans, we have to accept that it is what it is.
After a decent start by the visitors which saw them get a few pucks on Garon right off the bat, it didn't take long for the home team to make their mark on the scoresheet, former first rounder Jakub Voracek scored just over five minutes in to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead. Alternating penalties would make it difficult for either team to get much in the way of sustained pressure going, but Columbus would out-shoot and out-chance the Flames through twenty minutes of hockey, heading into the intermission with a one-goal cushion.
The Flames were listless through the first half of the middle frame and appeared to have already packed it in, getting outshot 13-5 at one point in the period. The Jackets extended their lead to 2-0 at 11:18 on a goal by Jared Boll before two powerplays in the latter ten minutes of the period sparked the visitors, with Olli Jokinen cashing in on Antione Vermette's second consecutive interference infraction to bring his team within one. Shots ended up 17-11 in favour of Columbus in the middle frame, with the hosts also edging their visitors 9-7 in scoring chances.
The third period would see only a limited push-back by the Flames, as they would both out-chance and out-shoot the Jackets, but it wasn't enough. They couldn't beat Garon to tie things up at two on a powerplay with under five minutes remaining in the game, and Rostislav Klesla's empty net goal sealed the victory for the Blue Jackets, who extended their lead over the Flames in the Western Conference standings to six points, with two games in hand.
Unlike last night's effort in Minnesota, the Flames were never really in this one. I only caught about a period and a half of the action, but outside of a few shifts before Columbus' first goal, they had only a few chances that could be categorized as 'dangerous.' The visitors kept the chance count relatively close, but ended up on the losing end of things at the end of the night, largely due to the fact that they conceded 17 shots in the second period, with only six Flames finishing in the black in chance differential at EV, half of which are defencemen.
I'll admit to being uncharacteristically optimistic heading into this season. I was excited about the team potentially coming together in the second year of Brent Sutter's tutelage, about the return of Alex Tanguay, about the potential for a bounce-back of sorts from the likes of Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen, and even about Daymond Langkow's recovery which once appeared to be a sure thing. I didn't expect Rene Bourque to struggle to score, or for him to struggle against a quality of competition he seemed to outplay with ease last season on a line with Langkow.
I think most people who blog about this team believed that the potential for improvement existed after last season, that the percentages would correct themselves to a degree, and the Flames might able to sneak into the playoffs after a one-year haitus, but that is looking like an increasingly impossible feat with every loss. The Flames are in a position where they would now have to collect 72% of a remaining 94 points available to have a fighting chance at a post-season berth, which means they can only afford to lose another 13 games in regulation. With 47 games left on the schedule, it's not looking good, and the chances for immediate improvement considering the club's inflexible roster are slim. Is it time for us to accept this season as a write-off, or is there still hope?
The Flames are in Dallas on Thursday to close out a three-game road trip against the Stars before the Holiday break.