SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla off and running

Jarome Iginla is the toast of the town with 16 points in his first 10 games for the Flames. (Sun...

Jarome Iginla is the toast of the town with 16 points in his first 10 games for the Flames. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Part of the motivation, admits Jarome Iginla, is to silence the critics.

Especially those pesky ones in the fifth estate.

It's almost become an annual tradition in the Stampede City that early in the season, the Calgary Flames captain has his offensive performance analyzed and often criticized.

Heading into tonight's contest against the Colorado Avalanche with six goals and 16 points in 10 games -- his best career start to a season -- Iginla is the toast of the town.

"You're trying to improve at the start of the year, knowing from you heckling me that it's not always happened," he said yesterday with a laugh. "So you try to improve and do things differently."

It's something of a misnomer that Iginla is known as a slow starter. He's collected at least seven points to start each of the last seven seasons, and reached double digits four times in that spell.

But this year, he's taken it to a new level, tying his career best for goals in the first 10 contests and hitting a new standard in points. He's even exceeded the start from his breakthrough 2001-02 campaign, when he started with five goals and 13 points and went on to lead the league with a 52-goal, 96-point season.

"It's almost like he puts the team on his back and 'Here we go,' " said Craig Conroy. "He's one of the top players in the league, and right now he's in that zone, so you want to give him the puck, let him do his thing, put him out there as much as he can be and just kind of ride him. It's fun to watch.

"He got off to a quick start, he's feeling good about himself and it just carries on. When he gets going, he literally thinks he's gonna score every shift."

All joking aside about the media scrutiny, Iginla said the biggest reason is the talent level around him, with the likes of Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, Alex Tanguay, Matthew Lombardi, Owen Nolan and Conroy.

"We have a lot more ability to score goals and help each other in that area," Iginla siad. "Look at Langk's start, Juice, Alex, Lombo. It's a huge help. I don't want to say there wasn't help before but it's depth."

And it goes beyond just the simple skill level on a Flames team that awoke yesterday tops in the Western Conference and third overall in goals per game.

Iginla, who sits third in the league in points, tied for 10th in goals and tied for fifth in assists, is quick to point out all that talent does more than just add production.

There are more players capable of turning the tide with a great play or scoring a key goal.

Since the lockout, the game has become a little more free-wheeling. Iginla was one of the NHL's most dominant players in the clutch-and-grab era thanks to his grit and strength, but still has the skill to make opponents pay when given the chance.

Of course, now the question remains whether Iginla can keep it going.

He's on pace for close to 50 goals and nearly 130 points -- which would obliterate his career best for points.

He was on his way to a new standard last year before missing a dozen games due to a knee injury, ending up with 94 points, but isn't looking too far ahead.

"I'll keep shooting to have an impact because we're a hungry group and want to make things happen and want results," he said. "I'm not shooting for any less."


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