Rocky Mountain high (expectations)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:54 PM ET

The turnover totals one-third of the Flames roster.

But, despite at least eight new faces in the lineup, the expectations in the Stampede City are as high as the Rocky Mountains.

“A lot of us have played together for a long time and it’s time for us to take the next step in the regular season,” captain Jarome Iginla said. “Making the playoffs four years in a row is not easy, and that’s good, but we want to be a better team through the year.

“That’s doing things like having a better PP, better PK, better defensively. I think everybody’s motivated.”

Certainly motivated to put three consecutive first-round playoff exits in the past.

Before they get that far, though, the Flames need to click, even with all the new players.

Gone are skilled left wingers Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius, aging veterans Owen Nolan, Stephane Yelle, Marcus Nilson and Mark Smith, along with the likes of Eric Godard, David Hale and Curtis Joseph.

The additions don’t have the top-end skill, but Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Ray Bourque, Curtis Glencross, Brandon Prust, Andre Roy and Mark Giordano will try to make up for it by playing with more speed and snarl.

“We’ve got a lot more speed up front, a lot more grit,” defenceman Dion Phaneuf said. “We’ve got more guys that play that fast-paced, hard-forechecking hockey.”

Could it be a case of the Flames going back to their old formula?

Actually, a little. Certainly this year’s version has more offensive ability than the team that went to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, but there is a decided return to the philosophy of stronger defence and more aggressive forechecking.

Still, Iginla insists there isn’t that much of a drop in skill level.

“We’re moving the puck way better. We’ve talked about defence for years, needing to be better defensively, but I think we can also be better by having the puck more,” he said. “It’s like Detroit, they make you chase them.

“I think we’ve all been better moving the puck as five-man units.”


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