SUN Hockey Pool

Flames needa Dion's D on

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Already considered by so many to be a perennial Norris Trophy contender, it's time Dion Phaneuf proves it to those who don't.

Everyone has seen his booming one-timers, and his punishing open-ice hits.

They've seen the powerplay point production, and the end-to-end rushes.

With Robyn Regehr suffering a knee injury Saturday night, this could be Phaneuf's chance to prove he can defend his own crease as enthusiastically as he heads to the opposition's.

Regehr is considered day-to-day with his "lower-body" injury, and head coach Mike Keenan said yesterday not to assume he'll miss tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes after getting good news the damage isn't as bad as first thought.

Still, Phaneuf is bound to face the other team's top players more often.

His skills in that regard have improved since joining the Calgary Flames as a 20-year-old rookie with sights set on making a name for himself quickly.

Phaneuf did that with his spectacular body checks and ability to change a game with his shot.

That section of his resume, the offensive flash and determination, hasn't deteriorated.

And Phaneuf will become a Norris dynasty like Nicklas Lidstrom when the defensive side of his game catches up.

It's not quite there yet, but Keenan has been giving him more responsibilities in that regard this season.

"Dion and Vandy (Jim Vandermeer) have played against the top players. It's part of their education," said Keenan.

"Not as much as Robyn and, most often, Cory (Sarich), but they've played more often than they have in the past."

While it's hard to imagine Phaneuf's minutes rising even more when he's already averaging close to 30 a night, the time he's on the ice will be even more intense if Regehr is out.

Intensity has never been a problem for Phaneuf, but he'll have to channel it more wisely to be considered a shut-down defender.

"When you're asked to do a little bit more, you have to be ready for that," Phaneuf said yesterday as he tried out a new pair of skates off the ice rather than take part in an optional practice at the Saddledome.

"You lose Reg, he's a big part of our back end. It's not just me that's going to have to step up. Every guy is going to have to step up and give a little bit more."

None more than Phaneuf, who saw 34:37 of action in Anaheim with Regehr in the press box.

Keenan gave Phaneuf that much ice time because of his offensive skills with the Ducks gaining a 3-0 advantage in the second period.

There's no doubt, though, that with Regehr on the shelf Phaneuf becomes the Flames' most important defender.

Not always their most effective.

In the two games, Regehr has missed this year -- the season-opener to see the birth of his first son, and Sunday's 3-2 loss in Anaheim with the injury -- Phaneuf has been a combined minus-four with no points to his credit.

Boasting more depth among the forward ranks than ever before, and an offensively talented blueliner in Mark Giordano who can join a rush as easily as his former roommate, the Flames can do without Phaneuf's point production. They can't do without him being at his best behind his own blueline.


Videos

Photos