SUN Hockey Pool

Forward thinking

STEVE MACFARLANE, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Dion Phaneuf ignited the Flames powerplay, maybe he'll do the same for Calgary's slumping offence.

A night after jumping up front with the man-advantage to set up Calgary's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the hard-hitting defenceman practised on the wing beside Craig Conroy and Jarome Iginla before the team jetted off to Denver for tonight's matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.

Although it seems unlikely one of the league's most promising defencemen will spend much time as a forward -- the position in practice was probably more of a message to the regular wingers -- anything's possible when you consider the Flames have scored just 19 goals over their last 10 games after starting the season as one of the most-potent offences in the league.

"He always says in Red Deer he used to go up and play up front quite a bit just to get things sparked up," said Iginla of Phaneuf's WHL experience with the Rebels.

"Yesterday, he was a big boost for us. He's a top defenceman -- one of the top defencemen in the league -- and he's only getting better and better. A good player like that can play anywhere and be effective."

If the move was a message from head coach Mike Keenan, it was well received.

"As a group of forwards, you take that personally, too," said Iginla. "We're not getting the job done."

Keenan said that interpretation was part of it, but Phaneuf does provide something players like Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius can't.

"He has some attributes that others don't have, with the exception of Jarome," said Keenan. "There's probably not another forward that has the presence that he has.

"He ignited the powerplay by giving us a big play behind the net with his physical presence. He can battle in front. He's a big man, so there's some obstruction for the goaltenders. He added that dimension to our club last night that we needed."

While the defence has improved significantly in recent days, the offence is stagnant. Only three players have scored more than one goal this month -- Iginla (5), Owen Nolan (4) and Tanguay (2).

"Not only up front, but as a whole, we haven't been good enough," said Phaneuf, who's willing to do whatever is asked of him to help the team.

"Wherever I'm asked to play, I have to go and do a job. If I'm up front, I'll have to play my game and bring a spark."

Keenan pointed out his squad has allowed the fewest shots against per game over the past half-dozen contests, which he attributes to growth. Iginla likes the improvement on the back end, but admits balance is crucial.

"We're definitely trying to get our shots down and our defensive game together and our goals-against down. But at the same time, we've got to make sure we're working on the other side of the puck and creating offence," said Iginla.

"It's that balance and we've got to find it."


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