SUN Hockey Pool

Dion improves 'O' so much

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

The plus-minus numbers are still in the red for Dion Phaneuf.

However, the Flames defenceman is back to providing the offence that helped make him an all-star and Norris Trophy finalist in 2008.

Phaneuf has started the season with an offensive bang, collecting four goals and seven points through the first eight games heading into tonight's clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After netting 11 goals and 47 points last season -- both career lows -- it appears the fifth-year pro is bouncing back nicely.

"Sometimes they go in. Sometimes they don't," Phaneuf said with a shrug.

True, but Phaneuf appears to be shooting smarter.

Instead of blasting away from the point, he's turned on the red light by taking a bit off his shots for more accuracy.

"I think I'm doing it the exact way I've always done. If there's a shot, I'm gonna take it. Sometimes you have to take something off it," said Phaneuf, who scored 20 goals in his rookie season.

"Sometimes in a game you don't have time to put everything into it. You just want to get it to the net. That's our job as defencemen. The forwards work hard to get it to us and get to the net, we've got to get shots there."

The key to Phaneuf taking his game to another level, however, is his defensive performance.

His minus-3 rating isn't on par with what he and the coaching staff would like, but it's an improvement from where he was a week ago.

That's just part of the quest.

"We want Dion to become a defenceman that's a good all-around guy," said head coach Brent Sutter.

"You know he's got the shot and know he's going to score his share of goals. Coaches look at more than that. They look at responsibilities the defenceman has in his own zone, being very good defensively, which we want all our players to become, but without it taking away the offensive abilities, too.

"Dion has taken strides there and we need to continue to work with him on that.

"He's a young player still learning the game. I think people forget about that. I think people think he's been in the league for 10 years because he's accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's a young player still learning things in the game."

Phaneuf knows where he has to take his game.

"I've got to be a guy who's going to play against other teams' top lines and shut them down. I'm just trying to keep improving," he said.

"As a team, we've changed a lot. We've changed a lot with our system and it's been an adjustment for everybody.

"When we play our system right, we're a very effective team, and I think that's shown our first few games. When we do it right, we're very good, and when we don't, we're not very good."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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