"That gives me 8 decs and 2 incs (since the P2tog cancels out the M1P) so I end up with only 6 fewer sts though the pattern says to go into this section with 44 and come out with 37."
I think you have 9 decreases:
1 dec on the 2nd row
1 dec on the following alt row
7 decs on the following 4th rows.
(dec 1 st for front edge (before Cable Pat) on 2nd and every following alt row once more, then every following 4th row 7 times)
so you'll go from 44sts to 37sts.