Turn on the red light

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:51 PM ET

DETROIT -- The Calgary Flames' offence is no more potent 26 games into this season than it was 26 games into the 2003-04 season.

Blame for that can't be placed on Calgary's defence corps, which is well ahead of the pace from two years ago.

Scoring has increased throughout the NHL -- at least almost everywhere except the Stampede City -- and the Calgary blueline brigade has held up its end of the deal.

Thanks in big part to the addition of Dion Phaneuf and Roman Hamrlik, Calgary's defencemen have scored 16 of the team's 63 goals.

At the same juncture of the 2003-04 campaign, the blueline crew had chipped in with just nine of the team's 64 markers.

Assistant coach Jim Playfair says that kind of offensive production is to be expected from his defencemen.

"We expect our back end to contribute offensively by doing things right defensively," he said.

"The details of playing defensive hockey are non-negotiable but once the puck moves out of our zone into the neutral zone, as far as joining the rush and jumping into the play, that's all dealer's choice. That's up to their ability to read the game, create with an offensive mind."

The Flames have some of the league's best offensive numbers from their defencemen.

The 16 goals collected by Calgary's blueliners are bettered only by Colorado (20) and Vancouver (19) prior to last night's action.

Philadelphia and Detroit also have 16 goals each from their rearguards.

Rookie Phaneuf leads Calgary's defence with five goals, while Hamrlik has four.

Both have booming point shots, which Jordan Leopold points out adds a new element to the crew.

"They bring another calibre to our back end and it shows," said Leopold.

"They're on the powerplay getting most of the shots and most of the opportunities. They've done a job as far as getting pucks to the net and creating opportunities but I don't think they're satisfied, either.

"We've got more to give."

A sentiment echoed by all.

Andrew Ference, Robyn Regehr, Rhett Warrener have tallied twice each, while Steve Montador has one goal.

Curiously, Leopold -- last season's leading scorer among Flames d-men, in both goals and points -- has not scored this season. His powerplay time has been reduced with the addition of Hamrlik and Phaneuf but Leopold admits he must provide more.

"Yeah, I'm not in the same role as I was the season before, running as many powerplays but I still need to contribute," he said.

"That comes from being smart and doing better."

Which is one reason Playfair expects the team's offensive production to increase soon.

"We're really disappointed with Jordan but no more so than he is. He's really discouraged by it, too," Playfair said.

"He's still a plus player, which is important, but at the same time he has to do a better job creating offence for himself."

Playfair wants his blueliners to register one shot on goal per period, a total of 18 over the game. Once they begin to get more point shots through traffic, Playfair believes the offensive attack will increase dramatically.

"We put a higher demand on our defence to help our forwards create offence, whether it's from jumping into the rush or with a good outlet pass or going down to the net on the cycle," he said.

"Part of being a good defender is creating offence. There's opportunity for it to happen and we expect them to step up and deliver.

"What we tell them is to shoot for the mesh. Don't look at the player in the shooting lane or the goalie.

"One shot means one goal or one rebound chance."


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