Energy line proof Flames run by a Sutter

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

CALGARY -- Identity was a popular catch phrase in Calgary when talking about the Flames with Darryl Sutter as coach. The team has been searching for one ever since Sutter stepped away from the bench to become a full-time general manager after the 2005-06 season.

All it took was another Sutter to bring it back. Nowhere was it more evident than in his use of the fourth line in Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

Eric Nystrom, Brandon Prust and Freddie Sjostrom were only out there about 10 minutes apiece, but they set the tone for the Flames with big hits, ferocious forechecking and a timely goal courtesy of Prust. They were given shifts at key moments of the game, when momentum seemed to be shifting the other way.

"I definitely think they're trying to hammer in a mindset that we need to have -- ingrain an idea in our head," said Nystrom.

"It's up to us to buy into it."

The energy line bought into it. And production came from almost everywhere else. Two goals on the power play. Five different scorers in total.

Everyone but the top line seemed in sync when the going was good during the first couple of periods.

Where Brent Sutter and ex-coach Mike Keenan differ most might be their treatment of those star players.

Keenan would have continued to send Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen out every second shift when things started to go awry. Sutter rolled four lines -- and it was the fourth one that continuously impressed.

"They played very well. They were moving their feet and they had a junkyard dog mentality," Sutter said of the trio.

"They didn't spend a lot of time in our zone because they were a puck-pursuing line. They were going after the opposition. With their skating ability, they're able to do it. They were very effective all night."

It's something many hope rubs off on the rest of the team -- especially the top line -- as the Flames attempt back-to-back wins over division rivals tonight at Rexall Place against the Edmonton Oilers.

"They may not get the same amount of minutes other players get, but their minutes are very good, quality minutes, and that's the way it needs to be," Sutter said of the energy line, making sure reporters remembered Prust's second-period goal was the winner.

Drilling the structure of his system into Flames players' brains throughout the pre-season paid off with a spectacular opening 20 minutes.

It was the perfect representation of the identity Sutter is trying to create. Defensively sound, but almost always on the attack.

The latter half of the game showed the Flames still suffer from split personalities.

"There has to be an identity," said Nystrom. "You can't be one team one night, world-beaters in the first period and get beat in the third. It's got to be consistent."

But that can be fixed.

Sutter is the guy to do it.

"It was a good learning experience of how, when we do things right and play a certain way, how good of a team we can be," said the coach. "And when we don't, how vulnerable we are."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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