Balance is Flames' goal

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

If the Calgary Flames can discover equilibrium, they may find themselves balancing a big silver trophy over their heads this spring.

Known primarily for relentless hard work and shutdown defence in the roughly five years since Darryl Sutter came aboard, the Flames flip-flopped last season. They shot into the top 10 in the NHL in both goals per game (3.11) and total scored (255). The only problem was their newly discovered offensive output seemed to come at the expense of their hard-hat mentality as they dropped out of the upper echelon on the back end. The Flames went from Jennings Trophy winners to 11th in goals against, many of them given up in an apparent panic with the game on the line.

Recommitting to the defence-first mantra while keeping their goal production up will be key to the Flames' success in the third post-lockout season.

So it should be no surprise nearly a third of the roster is made up of players who didn't begin the 2006-07 season in the Stampede City.

Even less surprising is the mould of player brought in over the summer.

Gritty, edgy, defensively sound and big bodied to boot.

Owen Nolan now rounds out the top six forwards, joining talented left-wingers Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius, captain Jarome Iginla and centres Daymond Langkow and Matthew Lombardi, who is expected to take another step up in becoming a star.

"You know he's just ready to break out and become a night-in, night-out top player," Iginla said of Lombardi recently.

Of course, Iginla's pal Craig Conroy has shown he's capable of filling in wherever needed, even putting time in on the wing during the pre-season.

Also returning is David Moss, who inked a new two-year deal in the off-season, defensive specialists Stephane Yelle and Marcus Nilson, Wayne Primeau and scrapper Eric Godard. Veterans Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen and Darren McCarty weren't offered new contracts. Primeau came over with Brad Stuart in a trade from Boston late last season before re-signing a three-year deal, and Iginla likes the idea of having the hefty checker around from the start.

"We didn't get to see the whole year last year what a presence he is," said Iginla of the 6-ft.-4 forward who can play both centre and the wing.

Half of the starting defence is new, with Adrian Aucoin hoping to forget two injury-ravaged seasons in Chicago, and Cory Sarich coming over from Tampa Bay with a championship ring and a hunger to help the team his Lightning beat in the 2004 Stanley Cup final achieve the ultimate goal.

Anders Eriksson was also signed as a free agent after a stops in Detroit, Chicago, Florida, Toronto and Columbus. He should form the fifth/sixth pairing with a slimmer Rhett Warrener, who came into camp in great shape hoping to avoid injury this season. David Hale is the seventh guy, but he could rotate with Eriksson.

Miikka Kiprusoff played more pre-season games than ever and is hoping for a better start to his year after earning a reputation as a slow starter. He'll be the biggest factor in the team's chances to return to Jennings form. To give their workhorse a break, the Flames are counting on rookie Curtis McElhinney, a third-year pro, to jump in and grab a handful of wins while picking up valuable NHL experience.


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