SUN Hockey Pool

Wanna be startin' somethin'

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

They can talk all they want about having a good start.

In fact, they have.

In years past, the Calgary Flames have stressed the importance of getting wins early in the season. It just hasn't come to fruition.

Five straight season-openers without a win.

A combined 20-25-6 record (and two ties) in the month of October in those years.

What makes them so sure this year will be different?

"I think we're a good team. I think we're gonna be a really good team and we're going to work, and we're going to compete," said captain Jarome Iginla, whose Flames take on the Canucks in Vancouver tonight in their regular-season opener. "When it comes to game time, we'll have a group that will love to compete.

"Now, it's about going to prove it. Every other team is talking about it. There's only so many (playoff) spots, and there's only so many good starts out there and we want one of them."

They need one of them.

Slow starts have been costly in the past couple of seasons, when home-ice advantage and an easier first-round opponent would have come in handy in the playoffs.

With the NHL changing the schedule format and taking away two games against division rivals, the half-dozen contests the Flames will play against each Northwest Division opponent take on even greater importance, keeping their foes from racking up points while earning their own. They start with a home-and-home series against the Canucks, then face the Colorado Avalanche before a back-to-back home-and-home stint with the Edmonton Oilers in their first handful on the schedule.

"We're going to step right into a playoff mode starting tomorrow," said head coach Mike Keenan.

"We start with playoff hockey."

We've heard it all before.

And still, that 0-5 record in recent openers lingers.

How do you go about changing it?

"We're going to win that game," Craig Conroy said with a laugh. "We've got to win, obviously. The only way you can change it is with a win."

The team isn't thinking about the past. Not the rocky starts to their seasons. Not even the disappointing pre-season loss to the Canucks last week -- an ugly 6-1 loss at GM Place.

That doesn't mean tonight's game won't have a big impact on their future.

"The first game's going to be huge," said Conroy. "They played well in that exhibition game, but that's exhibition and behind us. I think the last regular-season game we went in there -- it didn't mean a ton -- and we beat them by six or so.

"Now, it's just a matter of gearing it up. The whole team's here, they're ready, and this is where it all counts."

And the bitter taste of the exhibition loss is still in their mouths.

"The way we played last time we were there isn't what we want to bring to the table this time," said Conroy.

Robyn Regehr was equally anxious to get the regular-season show on the road.

"I'm excited to go there and really have a good game, especially since last game there we didn't play very well and they came out and dominated us," said Regehr.

Truth be told, the first five games will be a huge indication of what this year's version of the Flames will be capable of.

Keenan is excited about what he's seen from his group so far.

He's about to see how it will translate to games that count.

"They'll be emotional," said Iginla, who added ending the exhibition schedule against the Canucks and Oiers was a good way to get ready for the season.

"Feels like we're already ready to roll."


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