SUN Hockey Pool

Trial by fire

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

Suffice it to say the flight from Columbus will be much more comfortable than the jaunt from Minnesota.

Aside from a punchless powerplay that has plagued the club from the beginning of camp, the Calgary Flames pieced together the type of win over Columbus last night reminiscent of their post-season plan.

Miikka Kiprusoff was there when needed, the big line scored the game winner and the grinders stole the show pretty much all night long in the 3-1 victory.

The forecheck was relentless (the Flames outshot the Jackets 38-20), the work ethic was decidedly Sutter-like and the defensive discipline made the difference.

But oh, that powerplay.

Oh (my-Lord)-for-eight, including two

5-on-3 advantages.

What puzzles the mind on the team's slow special teams start is that the Flames have two brilliant youngsters and one savvy veteran capable of quarterbacking the unit.

Jordan Leopold seemed the obvious choice to direct things on the powerplay from the point this year until Roman Hamrlik was acquired to pave the way for the young American.

Thing is, something funny happened on the way to the regular season -- Dion Phaneuf became the powerplay pivot of choice for Darryl Sutter.

He said as much last week when he let it slip that one of the main plans was to set everything up around the 20-year-old rookie's booming shot.

While Sutter insisted all through camp he'd let the junior workhouse decide how much ice time he could handle, the answer was clear last night: As much as humanly possible.

Only one Flame spent more time on the ice last night than Phaneuf, whose

21:29 minutes was just 25 seconds less than

Leopold.

More incredibly, Phaneuf spent 7:17 on the powerplay, which was more than anyone else on either team by far.

As the play set up in the Blue Jackets' zone, it was obvious Phaneuf was the go-to guy, winding up several times to let his major- league blast challenge Blue Jackets netminder Marc Denis.

Only once did his shot find its way to the net, which is part of the club's problem so far.

That should improve.

Suffice it to say that as the incredibly composed Phaneuf gets more and more comfortable with the league and the hefty responsibility, the powerplay should click with regularity.

It's a hefty weight to hang on the former Red Deer Rebels star but one he's proven worthy of handling throughout his junior career as well as the Flames camp.

Making regular forays into the offensive zone when possible, Phaneuf's grit prompted both Blue Jackets Luke Richardson and Bryan Berard to take post-whistle liberties with the youngster.

On both occasions, he skated away as per Sutter's directions.

However, someday soon the kid built better than most Calgary Stampeders will fire back with a ferocity that will demonstrate he's worthy of all the hype.

With his shockingly heavy workload obviously increased because of Robyn Regehr's absence, Phaneuf took regular turns alongside blueline partners ranging from Hamrlik to Leopold and Ference, never once looking out of position.

Goal scorers Darren McCarty, Shean Donovan and Daymond Langkow can take a bow for jobs well done, as can Jarome Iginla, Marcus Nilson, Stephane Yelle and pretty much every forward in the lineup.

However, it was a rising star who didn't appear on the score sheet who proved every bit as important as Kipper on this night.

And he's only going to get better.


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