SUN Hockey Pool

So far, so (kind of) good

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 12:31 PM ET

Having reached the quarter point in the season, the Calgary Flames have already experienced their share of highs and lows.

Lows during a dreadful opening month and highs during a six-game winning streak that brought them back into the playoff picture in a hurry.

Plenty of action remains on the dance card, beginning with tonight's encounter in Los Angeles against the Kings. But we've seen enough to make some early observations:

-MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF

It's a chicken/egg argument: Are the Flames winning because Kiprusoff has been better or has the improved team made him look so great? We'll guess he's the single most important element to the turnaround, posting a 1.13 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in his last eight games.

- BEST NON-GOALIE PLAYER: JAROME IGINLA

No Flame has been as consistent as the captain, who's netted 11 goals and 12 assists. Not only that, he has been a difference maker. His game winner in St. Louis was the goal that sparked the winning streak.

- BEST DEFENCEMAN: DION PHANEUF

The four goals, 11 points and steady stream of bone-crushing hits are notable from the second-year defenceman. The most impressive stat is his team-leading 26 minutes per game. That puts him around the likes of Columbus' Adam Foote and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom.

- BIGGEST SURPRISE: MATTHEW LOMBARDI

You knew he had scoring potential but the seven goals and seven assists -- along with a plus-14 rating -- have gone a long way to securing his second-line role.

- MOST UNAPPRECIATED: DAYMOND LANGKOW

Right on track for a 25-goal, 65-point season. You can debate whether he's a top-line centre but he makes up for his lack of size with plenty of grit around the net. Watch for his numbers to improve with Alex Tanguay firing passes.

- MOST UNHERALDED: BYRON RITCHIE

Has played his best hockey as a Flame. He plays with grit, determination and speed. You have to credit a guy his size for locking up with Columbus' tough guy Jody Shelley.

-BEST TURNAROUND: ALEX TANGUAY

You knew his arrival wasn't going to be a bust but it didn't look good early. However, he has met expectations of late, collecting 10 assists in six games. The one knock: Only three goals.

- MOST IMPROVED FROM LAST YEAR: ROMAN HAMRLIK

Offensively, he's not putting up the numbers -- mainly due to so little powerplay time at the start -- but the defenceman was injured so often last year, his US$3.5 million price tag seemed a waste. Since pairing with Dion Phaneuf, he's showing why the Flames wanted him.

- BEST REPLACEMENT: MARCUS NILSON

Stephane Yelle's value to the team is greater than people realize. Nilson has done a good job of trying to replace the centre who suffered a broken ankle.

- NEED MORE: CHUCK KOBASEW

A 20-goal scorer last year, he has two so far. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Friesen and his one assist.

- BIGGEST TEAM DISAPPOINTMENT: The special teams, especially on the road. A 73.3% success rate on the penalty kill and 9.8% rate on the powerplay away from the 'Dome won't cut it.


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