SUN Hockey Pool

Offence taken by Flames

Chuck Kobasew has reason to celebrate, as the Calgary Flames have increased their output on the...

Chuck Kobasew has reason to celebrate, as the Calgary Flames have increased their output on the scoresheet. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

The truth hits Tony Amonte like a slapshot.

Numbers prove the Calgary Flames can no longer be considered offensively anemic.

The Flames entered 2007 in a tie for 13th in the league in goals scored per game -- and they're fifth in the Western Conference.

Through 37 contests, the Flames had 111 goals, an average of exactly three per game -- a standard they haven't reached through a season since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign.

"Wow. I didn't know that," Amonte said after yesterday's workout session to prepare for tonight's meeting with the Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m., Sportsnet).

"We've been scoring more because we need to score more to win lately.

"It's been more high scoring than we're used to. We've been giving up more shots and putting ourselves in a position we've had to score more goals."

At least the Flames can now win games in which the teams combine for more than six goals.

The Flames haven't exactly turned back the clock to the late 1980s and aren't an offensive juggernaut like Buffalo but it's a big improvement from some woebegone seasons in the not-too-distant past.

"It's an area we knew we had to improve on," said captain Jarome Iginla, the biggest reason for the improved attack.

"This year, we feel we have a bit more firepower."

Last season's squad, which won the Northwest Division, scored 216 goals -- an average of 2.63 goals per game. Through their 37th game last season, they had 93 goals, an average of 2.51.

"We added another extremely offensive guy in Alex Tanguay, one of the better playmakers in the league, and he's always been able to put up points," Iginla said. "And halfway through the year last season, we added (Kristian) Huselius. Those are two very skilled guys, who are good playmakers and make the players around them better.

"That's the biggest change but I also think we're more confident about controlling play more often. In the neutral zone, our defence is controlling the game more, letting us get skating as forwards."

Of course, the Iginla factor has come into play big-time.

On pace for a season that's nearly 20 points ahead of his career-best mark, Iginla is leading the way with what may be his most complete year. Daymond Langkow, Matthew Lombardi and Huselius are also on pace for career years but Iginla's play has had the most impact.

"He's always thinking offence and scoring goals. He's our driving force on the offensive side of the puck," Amonte said.

The Flames still remain sixth in the NHL in goals against, allowing 95 goals, an average of 2.57. Through 37 games last year, those totals were 90 and 2.43.

The record at this point last season was 21-12-4, good for 48 points, a half-dozen better than the 19-14-4 mark they have now.

Which explains the tempered enthusiasm of head coach Jim Playfair.

"I don't know if it's fair to compare to last year and try to pick a reason," he said.

"The focal point for us is to create scoring chances and our first line is doing a good job of finishing it off and our second line is giving us secondary scoring.

"But the focal point is still on the defensive side."

Just think what the difference would be if their powerplay, which has climbed to a 16% success rate, was good for another handful of goals through the first half of the season. Or if players beyond the top two lines -- such as Jeff Friesen (0G, 2A) and Jamie Lundmark (0G, 4A) -- were chipping in.

Still, the increase in offence is a big improvement from years past.

Said Iginla: "I haven't really played for a long time where if you get up by a couple of goals, the other team starts taking chances and you have a chance to get more. Last year, we were always in 1-1 games, both teams were tight, and we found a way to win them 2-1 but this is different."

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3.00 IS THE MAGIC NUMBER

The Calgary Flames are on pace to score an average of three goals a game for the first time in more than a decade:

Season Goals for Avg.

06-07* 246 3.00

05-06** 216 2.63

03-04 200 2.44

02-03 186 2.27

01-02 201 2.45

00-01 197 2.40

99-00 211 2.57

98-99 211 2.57

97-98 217 2.65

96-97 214 2.61

95-96 241 2.94

94-95*** 163 3.40

* projected ** two shootout goals not included in tally *** 48-game season


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