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Northwest: Flames looking to start faster

Tuesday, 19.02.2008 / 6:28 PM / Features

Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and the Calgary
Flames have been burning up the Northwest Division standings, sitting two points from the top.
( Video Highlights: Iginla | Langkow )
On paper, the Calgary Flames seem to have all the ingredients.

On the ice, they’re still a puzzle.

How can a team with so many talented players be so hot and cold? General Manager Darryl Sutter and coach Mike Keenan seem as mystified as anyone.

That 6-0 road trip awhile back is something of a distant memory. And the frustration was starting to mount last week.

Sutter even showed up at practice on Feb. 8, the day after a 3-1 home loss to the Blackhawks. Only a few days earlier, the Flames were walloped, 5-0, by an Oilers team that will probably miss the playoffs.

After his heart-to-heart with his team, Sutter reportedly walked past reporters without breaking stride or providing any insight into what was said. Keenan also declined to give information.

“It’s not something that needs to be shared with anyone else,” Keenan told The Calgary Herald.

But two veterans, Craig Conroy and Jarome Iginla, were willing to discuss what has ailed their team.

“Our first periods have been brutal,” Conroy told The Calgary Herald. “We haven’t set the tone for games all year. We sit back, wait, watch, and only seem to get angry, get aggressive, after we’re behind.”

Iginla agreed that the Flames have been too passive.

“Right now, we’re reacting physically, not initiating,” he told the paper.

Keenan’s hiring was supposed to provide the edge missing last year under coach Jim Playfair. Keenan’s teams have never been known for being soft, yet that’s what his players intimated with their comments.

The good news for the Flames is they seem to have responded to Sutter’s little visit. Since then, they’ve defeated the Oilers and the Sharks.

The latter of those wins came in dramatic fashion Tuesday night. Phaneuf scored a power-play goal with 50 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Iginla then won the game with 25 seconds left in overtime, and just like that, the Flames were two points behind the Wild for the Northwest Division lead.

Who’s hot -- Battered by injuries, the Canucks gutted out a badly needed 2-1 win at Atlanta on Feb. 7. Daniel Sedin and Alexander Burrows scored third-period goals to erase a 1-0 deficit, and Roberto Luongo made 27 saves. … Defenseman Brent Burns reached double figures in goals for the first time in his career, and he did it in style, scoring the overtime winner for his 10th goal of the season as the Wild beat the Islanders, 4-3, on Feb. 9. … On the same night, Owen Nolan scored two goals as the Flames beat the Oilers, 4-1. Nolan recently recorded his first hat trick since 1999. … The Oilers continued their strong playoff push despite the absence of Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny. Tyler Arnason, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos had three points apiece in a 6-2 rout of the Canucks on Feb. 9.

Shootout summary -- Last season, the Wild were dominant in the shootout. This season, not so much. But the Wild did pull out a 2-1 shootout win over the Blues on Feb. 10. It took the Wild six rounds to get their second shootout win this season. Defenseman Brent Burns completely fooled Blues goalie Manny Legace for the game-winner, closing in on the net, then pulling the puck back, making a quick cut to his left, and lifting the puck over Legace.

The Canucks got a badly needed shootout win the same night over the Blackhawks. First, Markus Naslund tied the score, 2-2, with 1:18 left in regulation. Then in the shootout, the Blackhawks were 0-for-3 against Roberto Luongo, and Ryan Shannon scored the only shootout goal the Canucks needed for the shootout victory.


Northwest goaltender shootout rankings:

    W    L  ShotsAg GA %
Mathieu Garon, Oilers 8 0 26 2 .923
Dwayne Roloson, Oilers 4 3 30 6 .800
Roberto Luongo, Canucks 5 6 45 11 .756
Jose Theodore, Avalanche 2 1 12 4 .667
Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames 3 3 17 6 .647

Top 5 Northwest division shootout artists (min. 3 attempts):

  Goals Attempts %
Shawn Horcoff, Oilers 5 7 71.4
Ales Hemsky, Oilers 5 13 38.5
Sam Gagner, Oilers 5 14 35.7
Kristian Huselius, Flames 4 5 80.0
Jarome Iginla, Flames 3 5 60.0

Top 5 Northwest division shootout-challenged (min. 3 attempts):

  Goals Attempts %
Mikku Koivu, Wild 0 3 0
Brendan Morrison, Canucks 0 3 0
Marty Reasoner, Oilers 0 3 0
Dion Phaneuf, Flames 0 3 0
Ryan Kesler, Canucks 1 9 11.1

Tenth weekly Northwest shootout standings:

    W    L    PTS 
Oilers 12 3 24
Canucks 5 7 10
Avalanche 3 2 6
Flames 3 3 6
Wild 2 3 4

Joni Pitkanen

Rumor Mill -- Who knows if it will happen, but defenseman Joni Pitkanen’s name keeps popping up in rumors concerning the Oilers. The reason: He signed only a one-year contract last summer and will be a restricted free agent. … The Peter Forsberg watch continues, with Colorado and Vancouver still considered possible destinations for the unrestricted free agent. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Wild also are making a pitch. … The Flames’ Alex Tanguay, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, continues to pop up in trade rumors. … The Calgary Sun reported that with Dion Phaneuf’s signing, the Flames will have a tough time re-signing prospective unrestricted free agents Kristian Huselius and Daymond Langkow, and both could leave over the summer.

The week ahead -- With playoff hopes flickering, the Oilers play the first three games of a four-game trip this week, beginning Thursday at San Jose. From there, they travel to Vancouver on Saturday, then visit Nashville on Tuesday. … Like the Oilers, the Canucks are fighting for their playoff lives, and this week, they’ll be busy against the Northwest Division, specifically the Wild and Oilers. The Canucks host the Wild on Thursday and the Oilers on Saturday, and visit Minnesota on Tuesday. … In addition to the two Vancouver games, the Wild host Nashville on Sunday and is at Chicago on Wednesday. … The Avalanche will be spending a lot of time in the air as they continue to try to survive without injured Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth. They are home Thursday against St. Louis, at Chicago on Sunday, back home Monday against the Red Wings, and in Anaheim on Wednesday. … The Flames spend a busy week visiting various Pacific Division ports of call. They’re in Los Angeles on Friday, Anaheim on Sunday, Phoenix on Tuesday and Dallas on Wednesday.

Author: Roger Phillips | NHL.com correspondent