Flames out to prove critics wrong

Back with the Flames after being traded by the team last season to the Rangers, Olli Jokinen is...

Back with the Flames after being traded by the team last season to the Rangers, Olli Jokinen is hoping to find chemistry with teammate Jarome Iginla this go-around. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)

STEVE MacFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Expectations are tempered everywhere but inside the Calgary Flames dressing room.

This is a team that believes missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2003 was an anomaly and that the Flames will be back in the post-season this spring.

Now they have to go out and prove it.

They'll be led by a top-line trio looking to rebound. Captain Jarome Iginla is coming off his lowest goal total (32) since 2000-01 and lowest point tally (69) in four seasons. Alex Tanguay was a non-factor in Tampa with the Lightning, earning a career-low 10 goals and 37 points. Olli Jokinen fell well off his previous annual pace with 35 points as a Flame and another 15 with the Rangers after being traded last season.

If they can bounce back with better offensive production and be defensively aware at the same time, the team might have a shot.

On the back end there's still plenty of talent and motivation with Jay Bouwmeester looking to rebound from a three-goal debut season with the Flames, and Robyn Regehr feeling better after battling patellar tendinitis during a down year.

Forwards

There's reason for optimism, but Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen will have to perform from the start to gain the confidence of the fans who were scratching their heads this summer when GM Darryl Sutter brought them both back for second stints.

They should be motivated to regain the star status they had upon first joining the Flames.

But they can't do it alone. The team was second-last in the NHL in scoring in 2009-10 and needs Rene Bourque, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan to support Tanguay, Jokinen and Jarome Iginla, along with timely contributions from third- and fourth-liners.

Defence

Jay Bouwmeester disappointed in his first season in Calgary, at both ends of the ice.

Group chemistry might be improved with Dion Phaneuf now in Toronto, while a top four of Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Ian White and Mark Giordano looks good on paper.

There's balance in the projected pairings, while the offensively inclined defencemen have a green light from coach Brent Sutter to join the rush. But can vets Cory Sarich and Steve Staios handle the speedy opposition they will face in a tough Northwest Division?

Will changes be made to create cap room and add youth to an aging back end?

Goal

What an incredible 2009-10 season from Miikka Kiprusoff. If he can keep it up, there won't be much worry about keeping the puck out of the net.

The biggest question in goal is how much time the backup will get - and whether he can provide wins. There has been a revolving door behind Kiprusoff since he got to Calgary in 2004, and the team hopes it finally has the answer in lanky Henrik Karlsson.

Karlsson has no NHL experience but was a dependable backstop in the Swedish Elite League last season. The Flames want 15-20 starts from him to keep Kiprusoff fresh.

Coaching, management

Coach Brent Sutter wasn't to blame for the team missing the playoffs last spring, but much more is expected of him in his second year.

Recognizing the need for more offence, he has tweaked his system to get his defencemen more active and to get his forwards breaking out faster.

Sutter will want to build on the foundation he set last season in terms of keeping players on the right side of the puck at all times. The Flames want more offence, but not at the cost of their defensive numbers.

General manager Darryl Sutter appears to be more of a background leader, with new assistant GM Jay Feaster on board, but Sutter will have his hands firmly in the mix.

Intangibles

Chemistry is not overrated. This team clearly didn't have it last year - it didn't help that more than half the roster was changed at mid-season - and missed the playoffs for the first time since the lockout in 2004-05.

All it takes is one unhappy player to start chipping away at the positive atmosphere in the dressing room.

The Flames have a sport psychologist, Dave Paskevich, on the payroll now. He might have come in handy during that long losing streak last January. That skid might have been the inspiration for Paskevich¹s hiring this summer.

Fantasy pool hero

Alex Tanguay

Unsung hero

Tim Jackman

Tough guy

Raitis Ivanans

Sleeper

Mark Giordano

Rookie to watch

Mikael Backlund

On the decline

Steve Staios


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