Nolan finds his game

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

ST. PAUL -- Owen Nolan didn't just find the contract from the Minnesota Wild he couldn't receive in Calgary.

He regained more of his old scoring touch.

Heading into last night's clash with the Flames, the greybearded veteran -- literally -- was the top goal-scorer for the Wild, with 23 tallies, his most prolific year since 2002-03.

He scored 16 times last season for the Flames.

"I always felt I could compete in the league, that's why I continue to play and want to win," Nolan said. "Guys on this team are very creative with the puck and that's making it easy for me just to get open and be ready to shoot."

Not long ago, most in the hockey world had written off Nolan. The first-overall pick of the 1990 NHL draft has recorded very good numbers -- more than 400 goals and 800 points -- but injuries over the past half-decade had limited his play and effectiveness. He could no longer be the brute force he once was.

However, he said he's changed his game enough to fit in and be effective.

"I think maybe it took me two years to realize what I needed to do in the off-season and how to approach the game to be more effective," Nolan said. "I'm a little bit lighter, but it's also watching the game and finding the different areas to go on the ice. I've been playing with playmakers and it lets me focus more on going to the net.

"You still take a beating but not as bad as it used to be. I think it's where the rewards are. You pay a price getting in dirty areas, but it's where you get rewarded."

After his one season in Calgary, Nolan left for Minnesota an unrestricted free agent thanks to a two-year pact worth US$5.5 million. Flames GM Darryl Sutter didn't want to offer the 37-year-old more than a one-year deal, leery that a second-year for players Nolan's age counts against the cap even if they have to retire due to injury.

Nolan has battled injuries this season, playing in 54 contests, but that makes his production all the more impressive.

Just imagine if he could keep his scoring rate over a whole season -- or close to it. He only missed five games while with the Flames and played through recurring stingers that caused his shoulder/upper arm to go numb.

"It would be nice to think about it," he said of a healthy season with the same scoring rate. "But you never know what happens if you're healthy. You can struggle a little bit. Other than the injuries, things seem to be going well."

So, is there a bit of "I told you so" towards the Flames?

"I think it's a great organization in Calgary, great people, good teammates," he said. "I really thought I would be there. But what they were offering, I thought I was worth more. Minnesota stepped up big and I accepted it."

That's life in the NHL's salary cap era.

"It's just part of the game, I guess," he said.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA

---

NOTABLES

With both D John Negrin and D Matt Pelech playing their first NHL games, the Flames now have had eight players make their league debut this season. The others are: D Adam Pardy, LW David Van der Gulik, C Warren Peters, LW Brett Sutter, RW Kris Chucko and C Mikaei Backlund ... The Flames are now 2-9-1 this season when playing the second half of back-to-back nights. They have to do it twice more to end the season, the next time a key meeting in Vancouver against the Canucks which very well could decide the division champs.

---

SUMMARY

WILD 4 FLAMES 0

FIRST PERIOD

1. Minnesota, Brunette 21 (Zidlicky, Bergeron) 4:45 (pp)

2. Minnesota, Clutterbuck 9 (Belanger, N.Schultz) 5:14

3. Minnesota, Nolan 24 (Miettinen, Veilleux) 14:10

Penalties -- Langkow Cal (tripping) 3:29, Glencross Cal (cross-checking) 10:39, Foster Min (slashing) 16:05.

SECOND PERIOD

No Scoring.

Penalties -- Negrin Cal (holding) 1:53, Brunette Min (high-sticking) 7:51, Skoula Min (high-sticking) 13:26, Johnsson Min (tripping) 17:15.

THIRD PERIOD

4. Minnesota, Gaborik 9 (Sheppard, Skoula) 14:43

Penalties -- Langkow Cal (high-sticking) 6:17, Fritsche Min (closing hand on puck) 18:02.

SHOTS ON GOAL

Calgary 9 10 8--27

Minnesota 10 8 10--28

Goal (shots-saves) -- Calgary: Kiprusoff (L,44-22-5)(28-24), McElhinney (5:34 first)(0-0),; Minnesota: Backstrom (W,35-23-8).

Power plays (goals-chances) -- Calgary: 0-5; Minnesota: 1-4.

Referees -- Mike Leggo, Rob Martell. Linesmen -- Darren Gibbs, Ryan Galloway.

Attendance -- 18,568 (18,064).


Videos

Photos