Giordano on the defensive

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Partnering on the blueline with Dion Phaneuf is a dream job.

At the same time, it's no easy feat.

For all that Phaneuf can do for the Flames -- the big hits, the big shot, the big offensive plays -- he can cause coaches grey hairs when the play is in the Flames' zone.

It puts much more pressure and reliance on his defence partner.

For the past several games, that's been Mark Giordano, but the switch made on a full-time basis a few weeks ago has done wonders for his game.

"Being with Dion, Mark recognizes he has to be in a defensive position a lot more, like when Dion is carrying pucks up the ice," said assistant coach Jim Playfair. "I think he's been more alert and in tune to being a good defender.

"That's always been the area of Mark's game we want him to be focused on and consistently improve. He's playing in a top-four position, so he has to be a very, very good defender.

"When he gets the puck, he's so quick and he can make good outlet passes. So the better at defending he is, the more we're going to be better at getting out of our zone quicker."

The impact of a year spent in Russia on Giordano's game was an interesting debate heading into this season.

Would the year away mean a step back or a step forward for the 25-year-old signed as a free agent out of the OHL?

So far, the answer is a leap in the right direction.

"Two things that came out of Russia with Mark," Playfair said, "is he's a more mature hockey player and he has a lot of confidence in himself.

"That's a really good thing."

Especially with all that ice time.

Since Jim Vandermeer was sidelined by a broken leg in the middle of the Nov. 9 game in Chicago, Giordano has played at least 20 minutes in six of the eight games.

It's a great way to get your groove back.

"The more you play, the more confident you'll get," said Giordano, who headed into last night's game against the Canucks with one goal and nine assists on the season. "Those little mistakes, when you play fewer minutes, they stick with you longer than if you go out there the next shift. That way, you're able to erase it pretty quickly.

"The biggest thing for me, when I feel confident is when I feel best."

Playfair said Giordano returned from Russia with only one habit that needed to be broken.

With his team in Moscow, the defensive plan was to attack players on the rush when they were in the neutral zone. Giordano's quickness was used to force opposing players to make a move between the bluelines.

"The times he was out of position was because he was being aggressive and trying to do what he was doing in Russia," Playfair said. "We want him to have that same jump and quick attack in the defensive zone. We want him to close gaps, get to loose pucks quick, use his quickness around the net.

"It's a mindset. Instead of having that quality in the neutral zone, apply it in the defensive zone.

"It wasn't like he wasn't trying. It was something he had been instructed to do, so it was an adjustment we had to make with his game, and when we showed him on film, he understood right away. Now that he's made that adjustment, he's a better defender because of it."

So good, the Flames are relying on him to be that defensive rock alongside Phaneuf.

"He's our top offensive guy, so you just have to read off him," Giodano said of his role. "He's good to play with because he's so quick, gets the pucks, finishes hits. When you're out there with Neuf, we have the puck a lot of the time, and when you're playing offence, it helps on your defensive game."


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