Powerplay experiments give and take

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

The Calgary Flames still may not have much of a powerplay.

But just like that, they have themselves a powerplay controversy.

In the midst of a relatively ho-hum affair against an intriguing young lineup from Chicago last night, the Flames caused quite a stir with a pair of radically different powerplay formations that eventually decided the game.

Within a space of eight minutes, the Flames went from using one defenceman on the powerplay to using three with surprising results.

First came the latest in a series of costly bungles involving winger Alex Tanguay on the blueline, making it clear his time as a powerplay point man needs to come to an end.

Apparently concerned his team had too many men on the ice (ironically, they were actually shortchanging themselves with only four skaters) he purposely allowed a routine drop pass to slide through his legs, allowing Jake Dowell to convert an uncontested breakaway to open the scoring early in the second.

Midway through the frame, Mike Keenan chose a radically different approach by sending three defencemen out after former Flame Andrei Zyuzin was (wrongly) whistled for interference when Jarome Iginla recklessly crashed the Hawks' net.

Clearly instructed to ruffle feathers in front of the net, Dion Phaneuf lined up on left wing while Robyn Regehr and Anders Eriksson manned from the back. Almost immediately, Iginla tied the game 1-1 by banging in a brilliant centring pass from behind the net delivered by Phaneuf.

While some might suggest the move was made to protect against Chicago's speedy penalty killers, the reality is the league's 20th-ranked unit needed a jump-start of sorts.

It worked as a subsequent powerplay late in the second and into the third saw Phaneuf up front, missing a go-ahead goal by inches.

Here's where the debate suddenly became clouded: Seconds later, the three-pronged defensive attack saw the Hawks score their second shorthanded goal of the night after Aucoin fudged a bouncing puck at the point and allowed Patrick Sharp to cash in on another breakaway.

In a game that saw the Flames dictate the play most of the night, special teams were once again the difference in a 2-1 loss.

Phaneuf's combination of hands and grit make him a solid candidate to roam up front on powerplays as opposed to blasting one-timers wide with alarming regularity.

Others will feel differently as he's spent the last two years pounding in 29 powerplay markers from almost 60 ft. out.

Fact is, it's a much-needed change in philosophy -- something the Flames powerplay so desperately needs after a quarter season of underachieving.

Besides, every team in the league knows the Flames powerplay is built around that point shot of Phaneuf's, and they react accordingly.

Prior to Phaneuf's move up front the man-advantage was peppered with a steady stream of easy giveaways that ruined any chance of building offensive pressure.

That changed when he moved up front.

Until the club can find another way of spicing the powerplay up, that's where he should stay.


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