SUN Hockey Pool

Flames need to be re-Ignited

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Watching the Calgary Flames misfire on ample opportunities to grab a stranglehold on the Northwest Division, the silver lining has always been the idea theirs is a team built for the playoffs.

Cling to that thought if you can, but getting into a post-season mindset is something that should have happened already.

It hasn't.

And if it has, the team could be in serious trouble when -- or if -- the puck drops in their opening-round series.

While rumblings Flames captain Jarome Iginla is upping the ante of accountability for himself and his teammates is a good sign with just nine games left in the regular season, the team would have made things a lot easier on itself had its recent four-game road trip not gone so horribly wrong.

Three losses in four games against non-playoff opponents leaves the squad no breathing room, so Iginla is turning up the heat in the dressing room.

"He's trying to make people accountable," said veteran centre Craig Conroy of the captain. "Definitely, I've seen a change in Jarome over the past four or five days. He's talked more in the meetings. He's pulled guys aside and said stuff to them.

"That's what captains do. He's trying to right the ship, too."

Iginla isn't the only leader in a room chock-full of savvy veterans. But he is the most talented, the best of the lead-by-example bunch on the ice.

Apart from a 10-game goal-scoring drought, he's been a model of consistency.

So if he's speaking up more, the Flames' best hope is that his message gets across. The same speeches -- these ones coming from a well-populated coaching staff -- seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

"You want to know going into our biggest time right now that we all know exactly what's expected of us, individually and as a line, and how we can all help," said Iginla of his recent discussions.

"Kind of make sure we all know our roles and what's expected of us. Every line has a little bit different thing they're going to bring.

"Everybody in that room wants to have an impact."

Meetings, there have been plenty of them.

Coaches meetings.

Players-only meetings.

General manager-led meetings.

One-on-ones between players and coaches. One-on-ones between players and players.

The recipe for success is simple, according to Iginla. So he is going about the task of reinforcing it for the stretch drive -- a couple of weeks that will determine whether the Flames have home-ice advantage or miss the playoffs altogether.

"We have a team that can be very physical, play very ornery, be aggressive and be in your face," said Iginla. "When we're at our best -- when we've had our best runs this year -- that's the style we've played."

His method of delivery doesn't involve stick-smashing or table-turning.

In fact, Iginla is excited about what lies ahead, calling the stretch drive "the playoff before the playoffs."

But this really is a last chance for the Flames. There's no longer any room for error as they face every divisional opponent at least twice.

"It should've been playoff mode the last 20 games. It's been that close -- not just jockeying for position, but also making the playoffs," said Wayne Primeau.

"I think we all know the importance and mentality, that we have to think every game is a playoff game and just as important as the next."

Head coach Mike Keenan has implored his team to play with urgency. He hopes it doesn't come down to his captain having to teach it this late in the season.

"Well, if they don't get it, then they don't understand what we've been trying to do all year," said Keenan.

For his part, Iginla is just doing what comes naturally to him now. He's not surprised there's a need to meet and talk things out.

"No, it's what teams do," he said. "Right now, it's about the final push and the importance of these games -- about the passion and the competitiveness -- but earlier in the year, it was about rebounding from a bad November.

"And we did that."


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