Game on for Flames

Curtis Glencross sports his number on the top of his helmet during a Calgary Flames hockey practice...

Curtis Glencross sports his number on the top of his helmet during a Calgary Flames hockey practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Friday, October 7, 2011. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

Hockey players insist they don’t hear or read prognostications.

Yet, they all seem to know what people are saying about them.

For the Calgary Flames, the predictions for this coming season aren’t pretty. It’s nearly impossible to find anybody outside the Stampede City who will call the Flames a playoff team, let alone a Stanley Cup contender.

“Yeah, Jarome (Iginla) was talking a bit, saying somebody picked us to finish last in our division even,” said right winger Tim Jackman. “We don’t believe that’s going to happen at all, so we shake it off.

“It’s good to prove people wrong.”

The chance to make those doubters eat their words begins Saturday night when the Flames kick off the NHL season by playing host to the Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m., CBC).

The Penguins, who are without Sidney Crosby, arrived in Calgary with a shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks to kick off the campaign.

The Flames have been waiting since last Thursday to play a game.

It’s amazing guys aren’t bouncing off the walls after more than a week of just practising.

“It is exciting,” said left winger Alex Tanguay, who is kicking off his 12th NHL season. “I think, for all of us. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. There’s going to be some jitters tonight, some jitters tomorrow as we get ready for the game. Certainly the adrenaline is going to be running really high.”

The Flames are coming into the season having missed the playoffs two straight seasons, finishing 10th both times, and with minimal turnover.

Thus, the lack of belief from those who read the tea leaves.

“Hockey’s played on the ice,” shot back Tanguay. “Look at what Tampa did last year, nobody even predicted them to be in the top 12 of the Eastern Conference and they managed to get to the conference final, almost making it to the Stanley Cup.

“The game of hockey is not played on paper, is not played in the media, is not played by the so-called experts that make the predictions. It’s played on the ice by the players, and if we do what we have to do and play well, we feel we have a chance to be very successful.”

The Flames are hanging much of their hopes on having nearly the same squad which finished last season with a 27-11-9 run, which pulled them from a tie for last in the conference just before Christmas to a whisker from a playoff spot.

However, there are more reasons for optimism.

One, and it’s hard to understand if you’re not around the team, is the more upbeat attitude around the Saddledome.

“We’re different in our approach. You see the way things are done,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “Things on the ice aren’t going to happen unless it starts off the ice, how we do it and approach things.

“There’s a real care in there for each other, and that’s important. I like the way we go about our business as far as being a team. Practices are high intensity, but fun, too.”

On the ice, though, is a belief a deeper set of forwards will pay big dividends.

Despite the fact the Flames finished seventh in goal scoring last season, the perception remains they don’t have the offence.

In fact, they were one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL after Christmas last season, and had a potent powerplay.

“You look up and down our lineup, we’ve got four solid lines that can play. We will have more contribution in our lineup than we’ve had in the past,” Tanguay said. “If you look at it objectively, up front I think we’ve got lots of depth.”

Winger Tom Kostopoulos is happy to add other reasons, such as the confidence of knowing what they can accomplish when following the gameplan.

“And that hunger,” Kostopoulos said. “When we left last year, everyone was really disappointed about not getting a playoff spot and it sat with us all summer. I think we’ll come out hungry.

We’re not a young team, not a rebuilding team. I think we’re going for it this year. We won with this group last year in the second half and know we can win together, and if we can find that consistency all season, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be at the top of the league.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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