Flames trio must deliver

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:19 PM ET

As good as Miikka Kiprusoff was last year for the Calgary Flames, it appears he must be even better in 2010-11 NHL season for his team to make the playoffs.

That is unless the team's top line of Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay start delivering.

Whether this year's team has more offensive punch remains to be seen, but the early returns aren't up to snuff after the first two outings for the club.

Throw in all the injury woes -- two more wounded in Rene Bourque and Adam Pardy during Sunday's 3-1 home-ice win over the Los Angeles Kings to join an overflowing hospital ward -- and the reliance on the big-money players becomes even greater.

So far at least Kiprusoff has been equal to the task, but the rest of the crew has fallen short.

Take the first couple of minutes in Sunday's victory.

Before the clock ticked off 90 seconds, Kiprusoff made saves at the expense of Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams once and Jarret Stoll twice.

The early period mastery was on full display in the second frame, too, highlighted by a clutch stop on rookie Brayden Schenn to keep the game scoreless until Kiprusoff's teammates could find their form.

"That's what Kipper does for us all the time," said Flames forward Craig Conroy. "You'd rather not have to rely on him to do it, but he's so sharp and so calm."

And so good.

That brings us to the club's No. 1 line, which has been the subject of so much discussion in this city and ridicule elsewhere.

By no means are the Flames built to be an offensive juggernaut. The top-to-bottom talent, as well the as attention to defence, won't allow it.

However, three goals in two games -- one into an empty net during a powerplay -- isn't going to cut it.

Certainly, it falls short of what this team is capable of achieving.

The injuries don't help. Having Matt Stajan and the Ales Kotalik who was performing in the pre-season -- and not the self-admitted broken player who arrived here late last season -- in the lineup would make things better. Same thing goes for Bourque, who appeared to suffer what would be at least his third concussion since joining the Flames early in Sunday's outing.

In turn, veteran centre Brendan Morrison would be in a third-line role he's better suited for at this point in his career, Mikael Backlund could either be put on the wing or even sent to the minors for more seasoning and even third-line winger Tim Jackman would be able to move to fourth-line duty.

But the real key is the top trio.

Yes, it's only two games, but those three have yet to deliver even a single point. They've combined for 22 shots on goal but nothing more.

It's hardly an answer to all those critics who said it was pure folly on the club's part to re-acquire Jokinen and Tanguay in an effort to re-ignite what's become a moribund attack.

Sure, they've had chances, especially Iginla in the third period of Sunday's tilt.

Likewise, they're shooting pucks more often. Jokinen has fired 11 pucks on goal through two games, seemingly learned to stop deferring to Iginla all the time.

But something is still missing, especially urgency.

Especially on the powerplay.

Bad habits die hard, and all too often that willingness to outwork the defenders and create scoring chances hasn't been there.

Think about it, with their first three powerplay opportunities against the Kings, the Flames managed a measly two shots on goal -- and only one of those was by a top-liner, Jokinen. That's after swinging 0-for-4 with the man-advantage when they were skunked by the Oilers in that 4-0 season-opening debacle.

It's way too early to consider pressing any panic buttons. Likewise, too soon to say Iginla, Jokinen and Tanguay can't get it together. Other parties, such as Jay Bouwmeester, need to help the cause, too.

But time is coming for them to start clicking.

The Flames learned last year Kiprusoff can't do it all and can't win every time the Flames manage just one goal.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

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