SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla admits he was rusty in Flames opener

Flames captain Jarome Iginla during practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Oct....

Flames captain Jarome Iginla during practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Oct. 7, 2011. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 AM ET

CALGARY - The only injury issue Jarome Iginla was facing after Saturday’s season opener was right there for all to see.

For much of the Calgary Flames 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the captain had a bandage just below his mouth for a nasty gash courtesy a high stick.

“Just a follow through on a shot. It’s not a penalty,” Iginla said.

The scar which will be the end result isn’t his first and won’t be the last.

The good news on the injury front for Iginla was his sore back — which kept him out of all of the pre-season games and most of training camp — wasn’t an issue in the curtain raiser.

Considering the disappointment of dropping Game 1 of the season, it’s about the lone positive he could take out of the night.

“It was good. I didn’t think about it once,” said Iginla, whose back issues which cropped up during the first practice of training camp was a definite source of concern among Flames Nation.

However, Iginla wasn’t dancing for joy about feeling no ill affects in his first action of the fall season.

Not only was the defeat a point of contention — especially how the Flames were so strong in the first and third periods but looked like a bottom-feeder squad, while the Penguins, who were without superstar Sidney Crosby, netted four goals to take an insurmountable lead — but so was Iginla’s play.

The Flames franchise’s all-time leading scorer had high hopes missing so much time leading up to the opener wouldn’t have a great impact, but it did.

“I didn’t feel very good. I wasn’t very good,” Iginla said. “At certain points (I played well), but overall, I wasn’t very good.

“I’ll just get back to work in practice and look to be better next game.”

The numbers bear it out, too.

Iginla, who has career goal No. 500 in his sights and will likey surpass many former greats on the NHL’s all-time goals and points list this season, had no shots on goal against the Penguins along with a minus-2 rating.

“I thought Jarome was fine for not having played,” head coach Brent Sutter said. “He’s had two days on the ice practising with us. His game will get better and better as we go on here.”

Whether Iginla will be on-track as quickly as Monday’s afternoon affair in St. Louis against the Blues remains to be seen. It may take a little longer, possibly through the whole first road trip of the season, which includes stops Thursday in Montreal and Saturday in Toronto.

The issue, Iginla said was simple.

“Timing, definitely,” he said. “It’s getting used to going at that speed again. You don’t have as much time (to make plays). In the summer, you always have time and you can do things, but all of a sudden it’s a fast game.

“I wasn’t putting things together or getting my feet moving. I wasn’t as quick.

“It wasn’t my back at all. It was a timing thing, how quickly things happen, and getting up to that pace.”

A game against the Penguins with just a handful of practices under the belt is hardly a fair test.

Pittsburgh’s squad may be known for star talents in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, bit it’s a team filled with speedsters and puck-movers who can dictate a game with finesse and a quick transition game.

“I think it could have been the slowest team in the league, and it would have been the same,” Iginla said. “It wasn’t computing that fast.”

As fit as Iginla is, his conditioning was a factor. Not from a lack of effort, but a product of all the downtime needed for his back issues to disappear.

“I’ll keep working on that, too, because there is a difference. I don’t expect it to take long,” he said. “I can be a lot better than I was. I plan on it.”


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