SUN Hockey Pool

Stempniak looking more comfy for Flames

Lee Stempniak of the Calgary Flames controls the puck against Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck of...

Lee Stempniak of the Calgary Flames controls the puck against Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck of the Minnesota Wild during the third period of Thursday night's loss at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minn. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images-AFP

Steve MacFarlane, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

Needing his returning players to contribute immediately, head coach Brent Sutter had to be happy with what he saw from Lee Stempniak.

In his third game back from a lengthy layoff with a high-ankle sprain, the Calgary Flames winger snapped home his first goal since Jan. 21 on a second-period powerplay.

Chris Butler, making his first appearance in a month after suffering a deep cut on his thigh, earned an assist on the man-advantage marker, too.

And Blair Jones might have run out of steam later in the game, but he showed real quickness early on after very few days on the ice after healing up enough from a fractured foot.

AGAINST THE GLASS

Every time Cal Clutterbuck lays his body into an opponent, I cringe — especially when it’s Flames defenceman Mark Giordano. But the first-period bump didn’t do the kind of damage his hit on Giordano did a few years back when it led to shoulder surgery for the blueliner just as he was gaining confidence in the NHL ... Olli Jokinen started to show signs of turning his game around in Denver after struggling for nearly two weeks. He had a nice start to Thursday’s game, too, showing hustle to scoot back on a potential 2-on-1 rush against the Flames. Sutter has been trying the last few days to reinforce the style of game he wants Jokinen to play. “You can’t be a perimeter player at this time of year. You’ve got to be able to get in the mix and get involved and get engaged in games, get into tough areas and win battles on the boards. You’ve got to be willing to get into heavy traffic areas,” Sutter said of the centre. “When Olli’s playing well, he’s playing up-and-down hockey. He’s not swoopin’, and he’s not playing east/west. He’s going north/south. He got off track on that. I think he understood it and realized it. Him and I have had some discussions on it. I think he started to come around on that.”

IN THE CREASE

Anton Babchuk finally netted his first goal of the season, unleashing an accurate slapshot early in the second period with a 5-on-3 man-advantage ... The Wild were hopeful the addition of a healthy Mikko Koivu to the lineup would help slumping winger Dany Heatley get back on track after an eight-game pointless streak. “I think it gives him an automatic jump and lift. He’s been bouncing around from line to line, and that can be difficult,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said after the morning skate. “You know that every shift, at any moment, the puck could end up on your stick and it could be a scoring chance. As a goa-scorer, that excites you and you make sure you’re ready for that opportunity.” Not many of those took place early on, with Koivu showing some rust while giving away a few pucks ... Heatley did net his first in nine games on a powerplay, with Koivu starting the play despite no assist.

PARTING SHOTS

Wild C Warren Peters did his old teammates a favour when he whiffed on a great scoring chance a few minutes into the game. He was parked right on the doorstep and untouched by the Flames defenders as the puck dribbled past him, and he got nothing but air. The look of disgust on his face told you it definitely was not an intentional assist for his old pals in their chase for the NHL playoffs.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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