SUN Hockey Pool

Flames must strike fear

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. -- Bring back the pain.

Shifts against the Calgary Flames used to mean guaranteed bruising for opponents.

Recently -- especially away from the Saddledome -- sighs of relief can almost be heard in the upper decks as their adversaries realize the corners aren't as ache-inducing as they remembered.

We're not talking about the defensive-zone black holes protected by rearguard battering rams such as Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf. It's the offensive assault lacking oomph as the Flames try to bust a two-game skid against very beatable opponents this week.

"You want to be physical when you can. The biggest part of our physical game we haven't really gotten established is on the forecheck," said Tony Amonte yesterday after an up-tempo practice. "You've got to be able to get pucks in the right position, get on the defence at the right time, that helps you get the physical game going.

"It's always talked about. It's always conscious for us."

While it's always conscious, it's not always evident on the ice. When the Flames -- those hard-working, hard-checking, former hard-hat-wearing players -- don't initiate the hits early and their counterparts are content to avoid contact, Calgary struggles to get into a groove.

"If it's not there, it's not there, we've got to create it," said Amonte.

Big-bodied but speedy winger Jeff Friesen realizes what it will take to beat the Eastern Conference leading Buffalo Sabres tonight (5 p.m., CBC). Should yesterday's practice lines carry over into the matchup, he will be trying to open up space for Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow.

"For sure, I think we play better when the game is more physical. We enjoy that style of games." said Friesen, adding the team's skill players are capable of mixing it up on the forecheck as well.

"I think we have balance. Our skill guys are physical as well. We can play with skill but I think we play our best when we're playing physical. It's something we can focus on more, there's no reason we can't do a better job of that."

Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his teammates have been trying to figure out what's been missing from their road game all season long as they've struggled to a disappointing 7-13-6 record away from the 'Dome.

Simply put, it's intensity, and that should be easy to pack.

"It's important for us to be aggressive. At home we look at it and we've played extremely well. We're an assertive team. You think of hits like Dion in other guys' face, and Reggie and Rhett and Byron Ritchie ... we have to be an aggressive team," said Iginla, who thinks big performances in back-to-back nights against the Sabres and Red Wings could help them focus on finishing the season strong on the road.

"I don't think it's a secret, on the road we probably haven't been as aggressive as we should be. And even haven't played with as much confidence as we should. It's something that the game against the Sabres and Detroit -- two very good teams and two very good home teams -- it's a good challenge for us."


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