Jarome Iginla’s faith in Flames pays off
This is always what set Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla apart from some of his NHL contemporaries, the ones obsessed about personal stats and achievements and their places in the pantheon of stars.
On a Sunday night when Iginla achieved a significant NHL milestone – he become just the 10th player in NHL history to score 30 goals in 10 consecutive seasons – it was the circumstances of the goal, and what it meant to the overall result, that mattered most to him, not the achievement itself.
Iginla’s milestone goal came on a second-period penalty shot against a Nashville Predators team that the Flames are fighting, tooth and nail, for a playoff spot, and it tied the game. When Curtis Glencross subsequently scored the third-period winner, his second in as many games, Calgary received two points for the regulation victory – and, just as importantly, kept the Predators from earning any.
Things are so close in the Western Conference standings, with so many teams jockeying for the final five playoff berths, that it was an important two-point swing. In the wild West, it isn’t enough just to win your games any more. You need to win them in regulation as well because an extra point here or there will ultimately make the difference between who gets into the playoffs.
Iginla is all about team goals, which is why, last November, when all the talk in Calgary centred on the team’s need to shuffle him out of town and start a massive rebuild, à la the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames captain made it clear he wanted to stay and work through the problems that had dogged the team through its underachieving first half.
All that trade chatter is now a thing of the past, with the Flames unexpectedly in the playoff hunt and now reasonably positioned to qualify for postseason play.
The team is 21-6-6 since Dec. 23. Even after that remarkable surge, and points earned in 27 of 33 games, all the spree does is leave the Flames with a chance to qualify for the playoffs. The schedule maker has had the Flames ahead of most of their rivals in the vital games-played category all season long.
It means that even as Calgary sat fifth in the West heading in the NHL schedule Monday night, their four-points cushion on Nashville doesn’t feel nearly as secure given that the Predators held two games in hand.
Another worrying factor: In the new and amended version of the NHL tie-breaking formula, games won in regulation and overtime count, but not games won in shootouts. Calgary has seven of those, after being largely inept in the shootout in years gone by.
So nothing is secure yet and all the Flames can really do is what they have been doing – win two out of three the rest of the way. That should be good enough. They have 14 games remaining, eight on the road, and their two matches this week – against the Stars in Dallas and the Coyotes in Phoenix – loom as critical tests because they are both against opponents still heavily in the race. But there is a new confidence in Calgary now, borne out of the ability to win close games.
Iginla has stressed this resilience as a reason why things are going so well. Unlike the first part of the season, when a three-goal disadvantage might turn into a six-goal defeat, now the Flames believe they are never out of a game. Against Nashville on Sunday, it was the ability to come back from 1-0 and 2-1 disadvantages that made all the difference – and the good work they got out of a newly reconstructed unit that featured Olli Jokinen between Glencross and Rene Bourque.
Bourque moved up the depth chart because the usual winger on that line, David Moss, had been pressed into service to play centre on Calgary’s top line, with Iginla and Alex Tanguay. Moss could get a long look there, given that Brendan Morrison is out indefinitely with a serious knee injury.
As for Iginla, he now finds himself in a select group that includes Jaromir Jagr, Mike Gartner, Phil Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Marcel Dionne, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri and Darryl Sittler – all current or future Hall Of Famers. Scoring 30 goals every year speaks to Iginla’s consistency and his ability to produce results, night in and night out, with various linemates, through a host of coaching and regime changes for a decade and counting.
There is no better way of measuring his resilience – or the impact he’s had on a franchise that, for the moment anyway, is exciting a bit of passion in a market that looked hopelessly forlorn not so long ago.