SUN Hockey Pool

Jokinen checks back into Flames lineup

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:03 AM ET

NEWARK — As cities go, Newark, N.J., doesn’t quite rate up there with the Big Apple.

However, Olli Jokinen was happy to reach the other side of the Hudson River.

After all, it means his three-game suspension is complete.

“It’s a good thing we played three games in four nights — that way the games go by fast,” said Jokinen, who was banished by the NHL for a cross-check to the head of Phoenix Coyotes forward Wojtek Wolski. “It’s a tough pill to swallow to watch the team play from the press-box.”

Jokinen’s return likely couldn’t come at a better time for the Flames, who face the host New Jersey Devils Wednesday night.

The status of fellow centre Matt Stajan would seem up in the air after he was crushed by New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal with an open-ice hit late in the Flames’ 2-1 loss Monday. Stajan needed help off the ice, which he received after struggling to regain his feet, and missed the final five minutes of the game. Staal received no penalty on the play.

The Flames enjoyed a recovery day Tuesday, and that may be enough for Stajan to recover in time for the game, but he could very well miss some time.

In Jokinen’s absence, the Flames went 1-1-1. He’s glad they didn’t lose all three outings but would happily have watched three victories.

“I want the team to win every game, playing or not,” Jokinen said. “We’re all here for one reason — to help the team to win. Even if you’re not in the lineup, you’ve got to think you’re a big part of the team. We have some guys on the IR, and they want us to win.

“There’s only one thing on your mind, playing or not, and that’s to get two points every game. You feel helpless because you can’t do anything. When you’re not playing, you want to make sure you’re ready to be back in the lineup. I’ve been working hard and should feel pretty good (against the Devils).”

Jokinen’s banishment meant missing a chance to face the New York Rangers, the team to whom the Flames traded him during last season. He then returned via free-agency to sign with the Flames.

“I would have loved to play, but there’s five other teams in this league I’ve played for,” Jokinen said.

The suspension also meant delaying him from reaching a significant milestone. Jokinen has 898 NHL regular-season games under his belt and is likely to reach 900 Friday when Calgary faces the Philadelphia Flyers.

That would mean 1,000 isn’t that far off — the middle of next season if all goes according to plan. But the first step will be returning to action after watching a few games from the press-box.

“You’ve got to take positives from the suspension. I watched a couple games from up top, and it looks very easy from up there. It seems to be slow, and that’s probably how (Detroit Red Wings shifty forward Pavel) Datsyuk gets to see it on the ice,” Jokinen said. “You study what’s going on, and if you’ve played 800 games, five, 900, or 1,000 games, you can study and learn. It’s all about the attitude you have.

“It’s not fun to be out, but you try to make it useful.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

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