SUN Hockey Pool

Ahead of his pace

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:06 PM ET

Jarome Iginla has broad shoulders.

And it seems every time the Calgary Flames lose a game or two, the captain needs every square inch to carry the blame heaped upon them by the fans.

Since Iginla showed the world how dominant he can be during the 2004 playoffs, it's now expected of him every night.

That's unfair -- especially when you consider he has scored two goals more through 34 games this season than he did when NHL hockey was last played in 2003-04.

Iginla netted his 14th of the season against the Los Angeles Kings during Wednesday night's 5-2 loss.

At the same point in the 2003-04 season, he had 12 and went on to share the scoring title with Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk with 41 tallies.

"Jarome is a 40- to 50-goal scorer," said Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter yesterday before the team hopped on a plane to Vancouver for back-to-back games against the Canucks tonight and Monday.

"Everybody says, 'Well, he hasn't done this, he hasn't done that.' Well, it's the pace he's on and I'd still put my money on Jarome."

Some connections can be made between Iginla's play and the team's success. The Flames were 23-5-3-1 when their captain scored in the 2003-04 season and just 19-25-4-2 when he was shut out.

This season, the Flames aren't leaning on their leader as heavily, with a 7-3-1 record when Iginla bulges the twine and an equally solid 12-8-3 when he does not.

But Iginla is aware of the way things work in the NHL.

Winning takes focus off the individual players, while losing -- even if it's just twice in regulation over the month of December -- has people lugging out their microscopes.

"That's the way it goes -- when the team's winning, everybody's happy," said Iginla, quite comfortable scrutinizing his own performance.

"I think that's fair. As far as criticism stuff, that's part of the game. I'll do my best to try to help the team win our next game and stay confident and positive as a group and individually."

Sutter tends to ignore any harsh words that come from outside sources.

"I don't care what anybody thinks except in our dressing room," said the coach of his star pupil.

And you can rest assured everyone in the Flames dressing room has the utmost confidence in their leader.

For the record, Iginla is his own biggest critic.

"For myself, I have higher expectations for where I'm at point-wise and goal-wise and how I've been able to help the team," said Iginla. "I hope that other people do, too.

"I've had better seasons in the past. I'd want to think some of my best seasons are ahead of me."

Typically a slow starter when it comes to goal scoring, Iginla has plenty of time to make this one of his best campaigns.

Former linemate Craig Conroy gave Iginla a vote of confidence while in Calgary earlier this week.

"There's nobody that can get as hot as Jarome," said Conroy. "Especially with these new rules, it could be dangerous. They can't stop him going to the net. I used to think he was unstoppable when they were tackling him."

Iginla, too, is confident his trend of heating up in the new year will continue.

"I feel I will be better," said Iginla. "The second half, I've had some good second halves. Next year I'll worry about trying to rectify the first halves again."

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IGGY THRU 34 GAMES

Think Flames captain Jarome Iginla is off to a slow start in the goal-scoring department? Take a look at his past goal totals after 34 games:

                       

Year Goals Total Goals Games played

2005-06 14 N/A N/A

2003-04 12 41* 81

2002-03 6 35 75

2001-02 24 51* 82

*led league


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