Time for Flames to make headway

Jarome Iginla. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI AGENCY, file)

Jarome Iginla. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI AGENCY, file)

Steve MacFarlane, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:29 PM ET

CALGARY -- Heading out on a six-game road trip, the Flames aren’t exactly in make-it-or-break-it territory for their season. 

They are, however, in a position to make some serious headway. With games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New York Islanders, the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators this week, coming away with as many as six or seven of a possible eight points is a reasonable expectation. It could have a serious impact on the standings, too, although only one of them comes against a team currently in a Western Conference playoff position.

Here are a handful of things to wonder this week.

Does Iginla get his 500th goal?

This has been at the top of the list for a couple of weeks now, and although he’s capable of scoring in bunches, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine him at 499 before Sunday night’s clash against the Predators.

Currently, the Flames captain is just a hat-trick away from the milestone marker, but has been for two games.He’s earned points as a setup man but hasn’t scored in his last two outings against the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks. As long as he keeps winning games, he likely won’t stress about it.

Will they play hard against the Blue Jackets this time?

The Flames’ last visit to Columbus was awful. There might not have been a more lacklustre effort all season, and it came at a terrible time when the team had just spent days talking about how important that late-November road trip was for them.

Too often, the Flames have been guilty of playing down to their opponent’s level and speed rather than trying to impose their will against all-comers.

If they want to make the kind of post-Christmas charge they did last season, and this time cap it off with a playoff berth, they’ll have to find ways to stick to the plan even when they’re suiting up against a team stuck in the cellar.

The Flames aren’t talented enough to get cocky.

Will winger Tim Jackman ever score?

The fourth-line energy winger, part-time enforcer and occasional big body on the powerplay,

has left little in the tank this season, but hasn’t managed even a fluke score through 36 contests so far.

He’s the only full-time forward who hasn’t yet potted a goal, and it’s got to be a little frustrating following a career high 10 tallies a year ago in his first season as a Flame.

Jackman has come so close a handful of times in recent games, and you know it would be a heck of a boost for his teammates to see the big guy score one.

What does backup goalie Leland Irving do for an encore?

With back-to-back games on Long Island and in Ottawa this week in the middle of a six-game road trip, it’s fair to assume the rookie netminder will make his third appearance of the season.

Tough to beat his last performance — an important 3-1 victory Friday night over the Vancouver Canucks on the road at Rogers Arena — but the 23-year-old first-round draft pick will give it a shot.

The guess is he goes in Friday against the Senators, which will allow Kiprusoff to play two, sit for one and then possibly suit up for the final three contests.

With a 1.44 goals-against average and .958 save percentage, Irving could earn himself more starts than injured backup Henrik Karlsson originally had scheduled.

When will the Flames finally crack the Top 8?

Playing two of the league’s worst teams to kick off their six-game sojourn — the Blue Jackets and the Islanders — could boost the Flames’ confidence even more if they have success.

Conversely, playing poorly after having such great performances against top-tier opponents could set them further back in their development as a group.

As of Monday morning, they were just a couple of points out of the playoff race, and somewhat quietly making their play at joining the Elite 8.

If they continue their winning ways over the next couple of weeks, they could be among them sooner than later.

 


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