Huselius wearing a target

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Hammering Kristian Huselius is the most effective way to nail him down.

It's also the reason the Calgary Flames let him walk away as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

So when the Flames meet Huselius' Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at the Nationwide Arena, they'd better pay special attention to the slick Swede who forms one-third of a dangerous top line that includes right-winger Rick Nash.

"You've got to play him hard. You also have got to be in his face," said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr, whose club plays back-to-back nights for a second straight weekend with the Chicago Blackhawks on deck tomorrow.

"As many fans have seen when he was here, he can stickhandle in a shoebox and make some really good plays if he has lots of time out there. We'll just have to play him hard and make it difficult out there for him to use that kind of skill he does have."

Those same fans saw Huselius struggle at times.

In the run-and-gun games of the regular season, he was a monster playmaker with a mesmerizing assortment of moves, a knack for the pass and an underrated shot.

When the going got tough, it got tough for Huselius to get going.

A big hit fires up some players, guys like Huselius' off-and-on linemate Jarome Iginla. Others, like Huselius, tend to shy away from the corners, spin away from potential impact and get off track offensively.

It was probably the one thing that enraged his GM, coaches and teammates most. Now, though, they'll have to try and work it into their gameplan.

Defenders couldn't lay into him very often during practice when they were teammates. There are no limitations now.

"Got a little taste of him on some one-on-ones," said Cory Sarich, Regehr's shut-down partner on the blueline. "It gives you an appreciation for the talent he has."

And an idea of how to limit him.

By hammering him at every opportunity.

"That's what we try to do with everybody out there, especially the other team's top players. You want to be physical on them," said Sarich.

Thing is, Huselius knows what's coming.

He heard the complaints about his consistency of his play for parts of three seasons with the Flames.

Although he'd probably never admit it, he's probably as motivated to face his former team as he's been for any game in his career.

"I know Juice is going to be fired up when we get in there," said centre Craig Conroy, adding Huselius is one of the best stickhandlers he's ever seen.

It might be the biggest reason the CBC picked up the game. The network knows something's gotta give when they meet.

It's almost as if there's more than pride and a couple of points on the line. There's an elite offensive player hoping to stick it to his former team and a team hoping to prove they improved by letting him go.

Tonight's result will have one of them smiling.

If it's Huselius, he might need an ice pack or two to keep the grin from stinging.


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