SUN Hockey Pool

Make it snappy

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

Remember how Dion Phaneuf introduced his offensive skills to the Saddledome faithful?

Against Edmonton Oct. 15, Phaneuf launched one bomb after another towards Oilers netminder Jussi Markkanen while the Flames were enjoying a five-on-three powerplay.

Two one-timers hit the beleaguered netminder, one seemingly knocking all the air out of his lungs upon impact, but most pounded into the end boards with resounding thuds.

It was a sight to see -- not often does a defenceman with a 90 m.p.h. slapshot get to unload so often in such a short amount of time -- but ultimately it wasn't much of a success.

Now, compare that to the pair of goals the rookie defenceman was involved in during the Flames' 3-0 win over Minnesota on Tuesday.

Both were wristers -- hard wristers, which Flames back-up goalie Philippe Sauve says "come in like a grape" -- that ended up going past Wild netminder Manny Fernandez. One apparently ricocheted off a Wild defender; the other was perfectly deflected by Jarome Iginla.

The change, says assistant coach Jim Playfair, demonstrates the freshman's evolution.

"Dion is a smart enough player to recognize people have done a lot of pre-scouting and realize what's going on with our team, with our powerplay. He doesn't have as much time as he had earlier to get shots off," Playfair said. "It's not always about one-timers and Dion is starting to understand there's more value in just getting pucks on the net. Sometimes a quicker, more accurate shot to the net is just as effective as a one-timer."

That's not to say Phaneuf always looks to unload when he gets the puck. His first NHL goal, in the fourth game of the season, was a long wrister against Colorado.

However, we've lately seen less of the howitzer, a conscious decision by the defenceman.

"Any time you get a lane, you have to get a puck through. That was a big concern," said Phaneuf, who's collected three goals and four assists. "If the forwards are working hard to get the puck to us up top, it's our job to get them through to the net.

"Sometimes it's a slapshot and sometimes it's a snapshot. (Tuesday) night, I got a couple through and got some good bounces."

Actually, it's the second game in row that technique has worked to perfection.

In San Jose, Iginla also scored by deflecting a Phaneuf wrister from the point.

The captain, who knows a thing or two about creating offence, can't help but be impressed by how well the 20-year-old has adapted his game on the fly.

"The slapshots are good but it's important to hit the net, get them through. If he has a clear slapshot chance, though, take it. He's got a hard shot," Iginla said. "But he's been getting a lot more wristers through, a lot more shots through, and it goes back to the averages. The more you get through or into traffic, the more chances you'll score.

"He's finding ways to take that extra step and wait for us to get into position."

All small things that make the Flames so excited about what the future holds. On top of being the top scoring rookie defenceman, Phaneuf leads all first-year players in average ice time at 23 minutes and four seconds, while maintaining a plus-three rating.

"He's right at the top of his class, there's no question," Iginla said. "He's gonna be a star."


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