Flames defenceman rush to score

New Calgary Flames tough guy Raitis Ivanans introduces himself to Vancouver Canucks defenceman...

New Calgary Flames tough guy Raitis Ivanans introduces himself to Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nolan Baumgartner during last night's pre-season tilt at the Saddledome. DARRNE MAKOWICHUK, Calgary Sun

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Kicking off the Calgary Flames’ exhibition season with a national anthem no one could hear thanks to a dormant microphone, Bree Carson didn’t have to wait long for help.

Recognizing she needed their assistance, the crowd quickly joined in to help mask an otherwise embarrassing situation.

It was a symbolic gesture given what Flames fans are sure to see from their team this season: Players jumping up to help out.

More specifically, the defencemen.

In an effort to bolster the offensive deficiencies that cost the team a playoff spot last year, Brent Sutter is hammering home the concept of having his defencemen get more involved in the offence.

Whether it means having Jay Bouwmeester stand in front of the opposing goaltender on powerplays as he did last night, or simply encouraging backenders to push forward on rushes whenever possible, the mantra is to create offence from defence.

“It is going to be a part of how we want to play — we want our defence to be active and just not joining rushes but doing certain things in the offensive zone,” said Sutter of an obvious approach to changing the club’s offensive fortunes despite having virtually the same lineup.

“We want to have an active defence with intelligence — recognizing in our zone when we have the puck where you can dump to and have support and join the rush. It’s for forwards to realize they do have that help coming up the ice to turn three-on-twos and three-on-threes into four-on-threes and five-on-fours. It is all part of our plan here to make us an up-tempo team. We want to create speed.”

While the defence-first mantra Sutter implemented last year won’t be abandoned, it’s being tweaked from a talented back-end with proven scorers like Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Ian White.

“You saw it a lot at the Olympics, but also if you look around the league the teams that are successful offensively have four guys in the rush and we have to do that — there’s no reason for us not to,” said Giordano, the club’s top defenceman last year after breaking through with 11 goals and 30 points.

“We have the players to do it. It’s just a matter of getting in that mindset of jumping in that rush and making it an odd-man rush every time. It’s not as easy as it sounds because you have to read the play. You can’t always go because it will cost you if you do.

“Our coaches are emphasizing it this year because we realize we weren’t a top offensive team and we have to be if we want to be where we want to be at the end of the year. I’m not saying we never did it last year, but we can be better at it.”

The concept is custom-made for Bouwmeester, arguably the league’s best skater. Signed last year for $6.6 million annually to contribute at both ends of the ice, he was considered a major disappointment when the two-time 15-goal scorer only scored three times.

“We’ve got to find ways to score but at the same time last year I thought some guys — myself at the top of the list — had opportunities but weren’t getting anything out of it,” said Bouwmeester of his frustrating campaign.

“It’s just the way the game’s played now so you kind of have to jump up. It makes it tough on teams with that extra guy — somebody’s usually open. It opens things up and we’ve got some guys who can skate and get up and back. You do it when you can — when it’s there but you don’t try to force things and get caught.”

At one point during a powerplay last night, defencemen Ian White and Bouwmeester were the two deepest players in the zone, hammering away from the goal crease.

“Hey, I’ll do whatever I’m told,” laughed Bouwmeester of the powerplay assignment that sees him lining up on the wing while Alex Tanguay mans the point.

“We’re experimenting with different things. It’s something I haven’t done too much of before. You feel a little out of place — not so much when you’re in front, but when you have to go to different areas it’s a little foreign.”

So might be the concept of pressing forward whenever possible. But it’s something fans and the players should get used to.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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