SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla takes in optional team skate

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:53 PM ET

Jarome Iginla insists he wasn’t duped, nor was he trying to send some sort of message.

Ol’ No. 12 said he simply wanted to work on his game yesterday.

So, for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, Iginla chose to hit the ice for an optional skate in which only four other players took part.

While others preceded their early afternoon flight to Denver with bike rides, light lifting or simply rest, Iginla deflected Adam Pardy blasts, went one-on-one with Vesa Toskala and worked on his shot.

At the tail end of a season in which Iginla’s work ethic, defensive play and leadership have been questioned repeatedly, the surprising appearance was seen as good news by a coach that has urged his captain to do more in every possible way.

“It’s a good thing,” said Sutter, who jokingly asked Iginla what he was doing there.

“He said he wanted to work on some things in his game.

“He had the option and he chose to hit the ice. If it’s something that can help him and help us I’m all for it.”

While Iginla downplayed the possible message it might send to teammates in terms of stepping up now, when it matters most, Craig Conroy enjoyed suggesting his pal was an April Fool’s Day victim.

“He got fooled,” said Conroy, explaining all the other veterans realized the dressing room dry board that read “full skate” was a prank.

“He says he didn’t, but I’ll say he did. He’s usually the first guy not to want to do that so I was surprised.”

Kidding aside, Conroy figures it’s unnecessary to read anything into Iginla’s decision to join Eric Nystrom, Brett Sutter, Nigel Dawes and Pardy on the ice.

However, it can’t be a bad thing if the 32-year-old winger is focusing on regaining his scoring touch or working on the little details Sutter is continually trying to hammer home.

“Sending a message is not the goal,” said Iginla, dogged by reminders he has just one goal and four assists in his last 11 games.

“Everybody got what they needed today, whether it’s a rest, a day in the gym or a skate. I need to get better and part of it is working and I just felt it was a day to shoot the puck and have some fun. It wasn’t trying to send any message or anything.”

“I was just changing things up. We’re in the middle of a tough stretch and I want to work through it. In an optional you get a chance to do things around the net and see the puck go in. I know I need to be better — and believe I’m going to be — and keep working through it.”

Asked if maybe he was simply trying to avoid a more strenuous gym workout, he sported a grin — something rare round these parts this season.

“I don’t mind working out,” he laughed, before addressing Conroy’s accusation.

“I wasn’t fooled.”

Setting a new career low by being held off the score sheet for the 34th time this season, Iginla knows how steeply the team’s odds of winning go up when he finds the net. And with tonight’s eighth-place showdown in Colorado looming as the Flames’ best possible chance to draw even with the Avs, Sutter hopes Iginla can continue to be better away from the puck as he has been of late.

Heck, in Wednesday’s gritty win over Phoenix he led the team with two blocked shots — one of the only stats he doesn’t generally rack up.

Tonight, as always, the rest of the Flames will take their lead from Iginla, whose work ethic on any given night often dictates the way the team plays.

And although the puck hasn’t been going in for him, he’s making small strides in other departments.

No foolin’.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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