Offence is key for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:07 PM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. -- It was midway through the first period of the Calgary Flames prospects game against the Anaheim Ducks and Chris Breen was in front of the net.

What's the big deal, you ask?

It was the Anaheim net, and since Breen -- all 6-foot-6 of him -- is a defenceman, it's not a sight you would expect to see.

Certainly not from a Flames team which is all about defensive hockey.

Breen, the first-year pro who the club signed as a free agent after a five-year OHL career, made his way back to the defensive zone for his normal duties, but it is a sign of a slight change in philosophy among the Flames.

Yes, after finishing second worst in goals-per-game in the NHL last season, the Flames indeed want to have more offence. And they want it a focus through the whole system.

Don't for a second take it as this club is about to become a run-and-gun squad, hoping to trade chances and come away with 7-6 victories, as if they've turned the clock back to 1987.

More a case of wanting players to believe they can make things happen offensively, and reeling them in from there.

It was a focal point during the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C., which winds up Thursday when Calgary's crew of hopefuls faces the Vancouver Canucks youngsters.

"What we've stressed for them to do is go out and play their game within the confines of the game, and then we'll evaluate it, support it, develop it and improve it," said Jim Playfair, the Abbotsford Heat head coach who's guiding the hopefuls during this week's tourney. "Look at guy like Bryan Cameron (in the second game against Edmonton). He wasn't doing much and we talked to him, and all of a sudden he's competing and giving us a chance late in the game.

"That's what it's about. Finding out what the kids can do, and finding out how you can help them to get better."

Does this mean the Flames will will be an offensive juggernaut this coming season? Not in the least.

It's not even a guarantee all the players looking for a bounce-back offensive season -- check that, need bounce-back offensive seasons -- will produce more goals.

For the Calgary fans, it would be nice to think Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and even Jarome Iginla will provide more punch.

If they feel more secure in going for goals, they will have a better chance.

Head coach Brent Sutter is not going to open the flood gates and let them shirk defensive responsibilities. He worked too hard last season to quash some of the bad habits picked up when Mike Keenan was at the helm those two seasons, and won't flip the switch the other way.

But don't be surprised to see Calgary have more offensive oomph. That was the progression over the two seasons Sutter was at the helm in New Jersey.

In his first season with the Devils, the team finished near the bottom in offence. In year two, they climbed to the middle of the pack, and while staying in the top five in goals-against without Martin Brodeur for much of the season.

Will it happen that way in Calgary? No one can say with certainty. If the likes of Tanguay, Jokinen, Iginla and Bouwmeester find their form of years past, it's possible.

For starters, Bouwmeester has the abilities, -- and the green light -- to be a bigger part of the offensive game.

At the prospects tournament, Playfair's defencemen were actively jumping into the rush.

"We talked prior to training camp about getting our defence more active, basically coming out of our zone, and in the offensive zone using their natural instincts to get pucks to the net," Playfair said. "If they're good skaters, they can be more aggressive up ice and at the offensive net."

Case in point, Breen.

Playfair pointed out late in the club's second game at the tournament, the big blueliner -- whose OHL career added up to six goals in 249 games -- made a point of sending quality shots on goal instead of the safe play, a dump into the corner.

"That's what we're trying to get our defencemen to do, trust the fact you can make a skilled play," Playfair said.

Hopefully they remember that theory when the NHL season opens.

Flames faithful don't deserve to sit through a bunch of 2-1 losses again.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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