SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla silences his critics

Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla is once again silencing his critics. (Darren Makowichuk/SUN...

Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla is once again silencing his critics. (Darren Makowichuk/SUN MEDIA)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

No, he wasn't falling off of Team Canada's Olympic radar, nor was he on the verge of becoming trade fodder.

However, despite raising the bar so impossibly high for himself over the last handful of years even Jarome Iginla knew it was about time for him to reassert himself as both team leader and scoring threat.

So he did.

On the heels of a backdoor flu shot fiasco that wound up being the shot in the arm he just might have been looking for, the Flames captain did last week what he’s always done: Prove all doubters wrong.

“I think it’s happened so many times over the years,” laughed pal Craig Conroy of a brief lull in Iginla’s game that saw him go without a shot against Detroit a week ago.

“He’s just so positive — he just kept saying, ‘it’s gonna break. It’s my month.’ He has total confidence in himself. He gets to play big minutes in key situations. Now everything’s fine.”

So fine, in fact, the league took notice of Iginla’s quick turnaround by anointing him with player of the week honours.

In a week that saw the Flames pick up back-to-back overtime wins on the road before edging the Rangers here Saturday night, Iginla was unquestionably the hero, getting in on five of the club’s eight goals.

Of his four goals, two were game-winners, including an overtime blast in Dallas that had conspiracy theorists wondering if there was a second shooter. It was his 67th game winner, sixth-best amongst active NHLers.

“I’m shooting a bit more - making a conscious effort of that,” smiled Iginla, 32, who now has six goals and 10 points in his last seven outings.

“I think I was thinking too much. More playing now and less thinking.”

Whether that’s a direct result of feeling more comfortable with Brent Sutter’s new system is still up for debate. What isn’t is the fact Iginla is now making the coach happier with his defensive play, which has been the new boss’s no. 1 priority this year.

“His defensive and neutral-zone play have picked up tremendously the last three games and he’s been rewarded for it,” said Sutter, whose star pupil is now second in team scoring with 14 points in 15 games.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s sorting through exactly what his responsibilities and the accountability factors are. Recognizing his position on the ice and what we expect for everyone.

To do that you have to move your feet and skate. He’s not waiting for the puck to come to him — he’s been active going to get it while also being better defensively.”

To prove the point, his big week pushed him from minus-four on the plus/minus ledger to plus-1 — something he hasn’t done since he started skating alongside Olli Jokinen last spring. The amazing thing is that Iginla’s big week came in spite of his linemates as Eric Nystrom and Jokinen had little to do with Iginla’s success. Jokinen was minus-2 his last three outings.

“As a line I think we’re coming and starting to feel better — I definitely feel better out there and Olli, too,” said Iginla, central to the debate over keeping him and Olli together.

“It’s not easy to say why — I wish I could’ve figured it out earlier. It feels like it’s coming.”

Conroy thinks its because Iginla is back to averaging almost three shots a game, like he has most of his career.

“He’s really shooting the puck a lot more from everywhere and being a little more selfish,” said Conroy.

“He’s skating well and handling the puck better down low, making one hard move and taking the puck to the net.”

And because of it, he’s returned to being an Olympic cinch – maybe even captain.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware maybe (Olympic GM Steve) Yzerman is in the building — that’s an opportunity to try to make a positive impression,” said Iginla on whether he started to doubt he was Vancouver-bound in February.

“It’s always there a little bit. I definitely want to be part of the team. I know they’re watching and have a lot of tough decisions so you want to be going good. But firstly I want to be going good for the Calgary Flames.

“It’s one of those things you can’t really do anything about except be your best day in and day out.”


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