SUN Hockey Pool

Hell Brent on improvement

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Their coach is one of the best teachers in the game.

Their defence corps is among the most menacing in the league.

There's plenty of potential up front to complement sniper Jarome Iginla, and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff isn't too far removed from Vezina-finallist form.

In short, there are no excuses for the Calgary Flames this season.

Nothing less than a playoff push past the first round will satisfy the feverish fan base.

Nothing less than that would please ownership, either.

Players, too, are expecting it.

"We've had good teams here, for sure. We've been given the opportunity at the beginning of each year of having a competitive team, which we've been," Iginla said. "But we want to get to that next level of being an elite team."

With the talent assembled in the room by GM Darryl Sutter -- and his brother Brent in place to guide them -- that should be possible.

But be patient.

Starting from scratch, it will probably take some time for the Flames to master the system Brent Sutter is implementing.

Whistling down plays on a daily basis in practice, the bench boss is making sure every one of his charges knows exactly where to be.

He's introducing set plays.

They're practising the powerplay -- a rare sight at the Saddledome during two years under former coach Mike Keenan.

The whistles will become less frequent.

Players will begin to act on instinct.

Once they do, they'll be hard to beat.

Not just because of Sutter's presence -- a welcome addition after two years of inconsistent chaos with Keenan -- but because of a fresh vibe in the locker-room.

"Everybody can point fingers, they can get rid of the coaches and say it's their fault, but when it comes down to it, it's everybody in the room," said winger Eric Nystrom.

Prodded a little, Nystrom concedes the coach can make a big difference.

"Maybe you need the right guy to push the right buttons," Nystrom said. "The good teams are always on the same page. We definitely have the ingredients for a great, great team.

"A good coach is obviously important."

Getting his players on the same page is what the last few weeks have been all about for Sutter.

And they're learning.

But they've got plenty more time to put in on the ice, their classroom, before they can say they've got it down.

It will be tested tomorrow against their division rival Vancouver Canucks, who visit the Saddledome with a veteran lineup less than a week after edging the Flames 2-1 in a pre-season shootout with a roster full of youngsters hoping to make the squad as the stars sat out.

We'll see how much the Flames have learned in a short time.

"I'm optimistic," Iginla said.

"I think defensively we'll be a lot better, because that's a big part of our focus, and Brent's very good in that area. At the same time, we're being a better team, too.

"We weren't as sharp in certain areas (last season) that we can easily improve upon."

The idea is to snowball through the season, starting with small goals and then building throughout the year.

Peaking for the playoffs is the intention.

So while the Stanley Cup talk has been bandied about in media circles and in fan forums, it's not the talk inside the room.

"I don't think I've heard it once," said defenceman Adam Pardy. "I hope I don't hear it, either."

But make no mistake, it is the goal.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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