Ten-dency to play better

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Using the number 10 couldn't have been a coincidence.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter had to have known yesterday it's been double-digit games since his team was embarrassed in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the Saddledome.

Since then, the Flames have taken massive strides toward his vision of a team that prides itself on defence first.

"I think the last 10 games, it's been, certainly, an improvement," Sutter said yesterday after practice as he prepared his team for tonight's game against the Minnesota Wild. "We've kept our goals-against down, we've kept our shots down, scoring chances down. Those are things that you work on.

"It takes time."

And sometimes, an eyebrow-raising loss like the one to the Hawks helps others see things the same way.

It's not just goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who's keeping goals-against down to an average of 1.40 since.

The team has allowed an average of less than 29 shots against over that span, with five of those games in the teens or twenties. Totals of 16 and 25 against in the last two games have hopes high, but Sutter wants to see it continue the rest of the season.

"It certainly has come along," he said. "We need to continue to work on our game -- we don't want to drop our guard -- and continue to play up to our standards.

"I think there's a framework there now that we're playing within that as a team we've been having success with. And individuals are having success, too."

Iginla mum on worlds

It's a long way off, with the Olympic Games and the NHL playoffs falling in between, but Jarome Iginla is well aware of his idol Mark Messier's post as general manager of Team Canada for the 2010 world championship.

"I think it's great to have him. I saw that," the Flames captain said. "It's also great to see he's getting back into hockey seriously, and management. Maybe he wants to go the GM way. He's been very successful in all he's done."

Whether or not he'd be successful in requesting Iginla's presence on the team is another thing entirely.

With a big family and little time off, as the Flames have been playoff-bound every year since the lockout, Iginla has chosen to spend his spring and summer months at home.

Avoiding the directness of the question on a couple of occasions, it seems that won't change this year -- and it's hard to imagine the Flames out of playoff contention.

"I imagine a call from him would definitely carry a lot of weight" Iginla said.

"But I think guys, at that time of year, there's lots of guys who are available and have gone and represented. Each guy goes through their own situation -- what their family situation is, where they are with injuries."

Mixed scratch reasons

Jarome Iginla, Eric Nystrom, Craig Conroy and Cory Sarich all were held off the ice yesterday.

For Iginla and Nystrom, it was, "no big deal. A day off," according to head coach Brent Sutter.

Sarich is still on the limp, and Conroy missed Wednesday's game with an undisclosed injury. Adam Pardy also left practice early yesterday, but the team's policy with injuries is to now forward any requests for information to GM Darryl Sutter -- who is rarely around the Dome these days -- which boils down to "we don't have to tell you, so don't ask."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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