Trying out the left-overs

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Seeing your practice jersey colour match those of the team's biggest stars is about as exciting as it gets.

But for the rotating crew of Calgary Flames who have manned the left side on the top line beside Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla, the promotion has often been a curse.

Starting the season looking like a lock on the left wing, David Moss quickly found himself battling injuries both above and below the waist.

Grinders Eric Nystrom, Curtis Glencross and Freddie Sjostrom all had their opportunities.

All were bumped after brief stints.

Glencross was suspended as he tried to rediscover his game in the first contest following his demotion. Sjostrom was a healthy scratch days after it was decided he'd get a shot at dancing with the stars.

Dustin Boyd and Jamie Lundmark have also been inserted with mixed reviews.

"We're kind of just going with the flow on that," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter before their six-game road swing that kicks off tonight in Detroit. "It may be that way all year."

Ideally, someone would step up and take that spot on a full-time basis. So far, those who have tried have actually taken a step back.

"That happens, absolutely," Sutter admitted. "When you look at certain guys that have played there this year -- Ny's gone up there and played, and the games he's played there, his game's kind of dropped off. He got out of his element as a player. Glennie, the same thing. Jamie did it (well in Los Angeles), and the next game, he got out of the element of what makes him a good player.

"I think that's part of it. You're playing with two star players, and you get a tendency of maybe standing around watching or standing around looking for them all the time instead of just being natural and go play your game.

"You need to have someone that is strong there that can understand that, know that, do it on a regular basis."

Sjostrom agrees there's a tendency to get caught up in the idea of playing with the team's best forwards.

Even with the scrutiny and difficulties that come with it, he still sees it as the dream position.

"No question about it," Sjostrom said. "I tried just to play my game. Play hard, whether I was playing with Prustie (Brandon Prust) or Ny or if it's them, I try to play the same way."

For some reason, it has rarely worked out that way.

Part of the battle is facing the other team's top forwards and defensive pairing when playing with Jokinen and Iginla -- who, as a twosome, have shown some much-needed chemistry the last week.

"But that's what you want," said Sjostrom. "It's just motivation for you."

Rotating until he finds something worth keeping together, Sutter is also providing incentive.

"It's almost like it intimidates them," Sutter said.

"Finding someone strong enough (mentally) to consistently do it shift in and shift out, that's a hard thing to do. You can't blame the player for feeling that way. The ones that prevail through it are the ones that seem to last longer in that situation."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA

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