Flames need to step up

RANDY SPORTAK, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 PM ET

DENVER — The chances of the Calgary Flames making the playoffs are slim, but it’s still possible the team can vault one of the teams ahead of them and make the post-season.

For the Flames to pull back into the Western Conference’s top eight, they’ll need everybody to come through.

But they also must have Herculean performances from five key players or it simply won’t happen.

It’s crunch time with the season down to a dozen games following Wednesday night’s clash with the Colorado Avalanche, and we’ll put the focus on a quintet of Flames to be the difference makers down the stretch.

Jarome Iginla

Rightly or wrongly, everything starts with the captain and franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

When coaches talk about needing their best players to be their best players, Iginla is a prime example.

The best evidence of Iginla’s impact when he’s on his A-game for an extended spell came during the strong November run.

The 13 goals and 20 points he collected in 14 games that month were a big reason the Flames went 10-2-2.

That record is on par to what the Flames must compile to give themselves a shot at the playoffs.

An extended slump, such as the 10-game stretch in January when he collected only two assists, will most definitely nail down the coffin.

Iginla wound up his game just before the Olympic tournament, had a big impact on Team Canada’s gold-medal victory, and returned to the Flames with more jump and determination to be a difference maker.

It’s his time to lead the way. A great run will cement his status as one of the NHL’s best leaders and elite players.

A poor finish will make those detractors who have started to voice their disappointment in Iginla speak louder.

Daymond Langkow

Langkow’s been appreciated in Calgary since arriving from the Phoenix Coyotes for Oleg Saprykin and Denis Gauthier — one of the last great fleece jobs GM Darryl Sutter has done — and has always seemingly delivered in the clutch.

This season has been a season to forget for Langkow, however.

Offensively, it’s his worst year in more than a decade. Langkow went 21 games without a goal and had just one tally in 30 contests, far from the player who netted nearly 180 goals over the previous seven seasons.

He’ll be hard pressed to reach the 20-goal mark for the eighth straight season, but could erase a lot of disappointment with a strong finish.

Langkow has never been a “wow” player, but more effective by being in the right place at the right time and having enough grit to go to the tough areas — which says plenty about his character because he’s not a big guy.

But he needs to come through and anchor an effective second line which currently includes Niklas Hagman and Ales Kotalik, who have both been offensively under-whelming since their arrival in recent trades.

Should Langkow get his game back to a top level and bring those linemates with him, the Flames will win more often than they’ll lose.

Jay Bouwmeester

Mark Giordano has provided more than expected in terms of offence from the blueline. Ian White has been about on course — maybe slightly behind, but still OK — since arriving from Toronto in the deal which jettisoned Dion Phaneuf.

But Jay Bouwmeester is the blueliner the club needs more from. Much more, in fact.

The two goals he had scored heading into Wednesday night’s clash in Colorado — none in 51 games — is the same total Calgary has from Robyn Regehr.

Regehr’s goal total isn’t a surprise. Bouwmeester’s total is downright shocking considering he’s coming off a pair of 15-goal seasons.

The Flames need the great-skating defenceman to lead more rushes, or at least join in them to create more odd-man chances.

It would help if his teammates would notice him more, too, since he often pinches from the blueline into the high slot with nobody seeing him.

In the 11 games prior to the Avalanche clash, Bouwmeester was minus-7 and a plus player only once. Throw in the inability to ignite the powerplay and the odd giveaway, it’s been an inferior season compared to expectations when he was acquired before the 2009 draft and signed before becoming an unrestricted free-agent.

Not long ago, he was thought to be a slam-dunk to play for Canada’s Olympic team.

The Flames need him to show the form which made everybody think so highly of him.

Matt Stajan

Matt Stajan is not being paid like a No.-1 centre. His salary is more in the second tier.

Very few followers will even put him in top-line category.

But that’s his role with the Flames, and has been since coming to the team in the Dion Phaneuf deal.

Stajan is a better defensive player than credited, strong on faceoffs — although that’s taken a hit the past couple of weeks — and a good passer.

He needs to put it all together and play the best hockey of his career over the next few weeks.

You know what to expect from his regular left winger, Rene Bourque, and on his right side is Jarome Iginla.

Stajan, therefore, is the x-factor among that trio.

Is he good enough to build on the eight points (3-5-8) through his first 14 games as a Flame?

Is he ready to take the next step which comes with the four-year, US$14-million contract extension he signed at the start of this month?

Is he about to become a bigger contributor?

For a few games, Calgary’s top line was rolling and making a big impact in games, and all three played their part. Stajan has two goal scorers with him. He has to make the moves to ensure they light the lamp more often.

Miikka Kiprusoff

The club’s MVP has been the most consistent player since the start of the season.

Even when the team’s goals-against average was higher than wanted, Miikka Kiprusoff was shutting the door when games counted most.

The team’s better defensive play has helped him shoot to third in the league in average, along with a save-percentage that ranks seventh.

What can he do more?

Right now, the Flames need Kiprusoff to steal games. It’s not like he’s been losing them any like the goalies in Chicago, but with the razor-thin margin of error, he’ll need to pretty much pull off a few victories of his own down the stretch.

The only reason Kiprusoff’s win total is at 30 is because of the lack of offence he’s been given to work with. He’s held the opposition to two or fewer goals in 39 starts this season. (By comparison, Colorado’s Craig Anderson has done it in 28 starts prior to Wednesday night.)

Unfortunately for Kiprusoff, the Flames are not going to burst out and be an offensive juggernaut. He’ll need to somehow make a few more 3-2 losses become 2-1 wins.

At least he’s done it his whole Flames career.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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