Conroy defends Flames' 'saviour'

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 AM ET

CHICAGO — Hiding it is impossible.

The pressure is getting to Jarome Iginla.

Not just what’s coming from outside the Calgary Flames locker-room but his own expectations had the captain looking and sounding morose in the wake of a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center Sunday afternoon.

There to defend him was good buddy Craig Conroy, who was agitated as Iginla was swarmed by media members. Conroy suggested the captain might have to be exempt from questioning the rest of the way.

Maybe for Iginla’s own sanity.

“Everybody always expects Jarome to be the saviour,” said Conroy, maybe more aggravated than he’s ever been in public. “It’s a team game.

I just feel like I’m sick of everyone on him all the time. He’s doing his best out there.

“I just want him to be able to go play three games and enjoy himself and just play the game and not worry about all the other stuff.”

Pressure, though, is part of the job when it comes to a sport that pays its top athletes upwards of US$7 million a season.

And while Flames head coach Brent Sutter preaches pack mentality when it comes to the way his team plays the game, every pack has an alpha male.

Iginla has always been the go-to dog. And his lack of spark in the dying days of the NHL regular season has everyone concerned.

Sunday’s stat-line read zeroes in goals and assists — for the third game in a row, the fifth time in his last six, the ninth in the last 13, the 24th since Christmas and the 36th of the season. He fired just one shot on goal and had another blocked.

More troubling than the lack of offence, however, was the fact he played seven shifts in the first period and came away a minus-2, as the Blackhawks stormed out to a lead from which they’d never look back.

If you’re not scoring goals, you’d better make sure pucks are not going into your net while you’re on the ice.

Don’t think that message hasn’t been passed along by the coaching staff.

That’s not all Iginla’s fault. His linemates include centre Matt Stajan and, most recently, Niklas Hagman.

And the defence picked some poor times to lose coverage against the speedy and dangerous Blackhawks, too.

But Iginla knows he needs to be better, that his line needs to be setting the pace and keeping the puck away from the opposition rather than chasing them in the defensive zone.

“I’m having a tough go and gotta get out of it,” Iginla said. “Our job is to create chances and to be pluses and put pressure on the other side. We haven’t been doing nearly enough of that. We’ve been in a rut.

“Our line and myself …

I wasn’t very good. We’ve been in a tough spot.”

In an attempt to shake things up, Sutter sent Iginla out every third shift in the final frame with an assortment of linemates.

“I changed things up a little bit to try and ignite something, try to get something going,” Sutter said. “Nothing was happening for some guys. Certain guys’ level of play needed to pick up in the third if we were going to have any chance.”

It’s a team issue, but Iginla is looked upon as the leader.

And the fact he’s been unable to rise to the challenge lately has him as frustrated as everyone else waiting for him to shine.


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