SUN Hockey Pool

Flames seek payback

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:22 AM ET

It was this time last year when the Calgary Flames helped their West Coast rivals get themselves off and running.

A year ago yesterday, the Vancouver Canucks arrived in Calgary a floundering team, below .500 and struggling in all areas.

However, a pair of wins over the Flames on consecutive nights in a home-and-home set sent the Canucks en route to the division title and a playoff run that lasted until the second round.

Could the Flames be looking for a little payback when they meet Vancouver twice in their next three outings, beginning tonight on the other side of the mountains?

"I think our last 10 games we've been playing well. We want to continue that," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla after skating off the Christmas turkey in practice yesterday.

"It's not just the two points, it's momentum. Beating rivals -- they're one of our biggest rivals -- it probably helped them get some momentum. But we'll start with one game in Vancouver.

"They're big games for us. It's always exciting to play after Christmas, you get a break -- even though it's a couple of days -- and it's a chance usually for us to play division games.

"Fans, you know they're looking forward to it, and we haven't seen them for a while."

Flames fans could argue it's been a good thing the club hasn't seen Vancouver for a considerable spell. The Canucks have taken the first three meetings this year, one reason they hold a three-point edge on the Flames in the Northwest Division chase.

"I guess it's the fortunate side of playing eight (times)," Iginla said with a smile. "We want to get this changed right away.

"What I like about this time of year is home-and-homes and back-to-backs. This time it's two out of three, and it's a chance to make up some ground in the standings."

When December started, the Flames admitted their goal was to pull into a playoff spot by the time the Christmas break arrived. They've done just that, going unbeaten in regulation (7-0-4) through the first 11 games of the month.

Now, it's time to push for more.

"It's almost the mid-point after the Christmas break. The mood of the league changes a little bit," said head coach Mike Keenan. "The standings will intensify because the game are reduced. The standings are as tight as ever, so it magnifies the point totals."

As easily as it is to look at the Flames' recent run in the positive, it's just as easy to see the negative.

After an impressive six-win road trip, they dropped both games at the Saddledome in overtime. Sure they earned a point, but they're still losses.

Not coincidentally, they haven't received the production from the top line. Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius and Iginla didn't net a point in the last two games. In fact, Iginla has been blanked in consecutive games for the first time this season.

"I think that's pretty much the league. If you're top line's not scoring, there's not that much secondary scoring overall," Keenan said. "Not to say other people don't score, but it makes a big difference when they are scoring."

Besides, Keenan pointed out, his top trio did generate plenty of chances in those losses to the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils.

"We ran into a really superb goaltending performance the last game and the game before that, even though that was a backup situation," Keenan said. "We outplayed Dallas and outplayed New Jersey and the goaltending was the solution. Kipper (Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff) never lost the games for us, their goaltenders won the game for them."


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