Iginla and Richards are the leaders of two very different, yet similar, teams in Calgary and Philadelphia, respectively.
It's funny, but when I was listening to Iginla a short time back, I heard the words that I associate with the type of game the Flames and Flyers both play so well -- proactive, assertive and being mentally tough.
I first heard those buzz words come out of Mike Keenan's mouth when he was a rookie coach in Philadelphia during the 1984-85 season and his team went on to win 53 times in 80 games. Not much has changed for the coach during his stops in Chicago, with the New York Rangers, St. Louis, Vancouver, Boston and Florida before going to Calgary.
There's no coincidence that I heard Iginla and Richards say those same words. The thread is important to the extent that the Flames and Flyers still mirror one another in the way they play the game -- feisty and fiery, with a frequency of in-your-face physical hockey. And it's no coincidence that they play the game that way so well that both teams were in first place at this writing.
"We have to be in your face. It's part of what's on the line and being competitive," Iginla said. "Bottom line, we want to be a hard team to play against. We want to be as hard on teams as we can, sticking with that philosophy the whole game while wearing teams down."
It's an age-old theme that both teams have used over the years with a little twist. Being mentally tough is so important. But this isn't exactly the same drop-the-gloves mentality as the old Broad Street Bullies or Big Bad Bruins.
"Anaheim made it work when they won the Cup in 2007, basically saying, 'This is the way we're going to play regardless of the rules and we'll deal with the penalties that come along with it, but we're going to win the Stanley Cup playing like this,' " Keenan explained.
In Calgary, the power game starts with Iginla, Daymond Langkow, David Moss, Dustin Boyd and Matthew Lombardi up front and includes a blue line that goes toe-to-toe with the opposition led by Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Jim Vandermeer. Plus, newcomers Todd Bertuzzi, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Alex Pardy have fit right in.
The Flyers' rebuilding effort has come with the masterstroke of former Broad Street Bully Paul Holmgren -- keeping the same kick-sand-in-your-face mentality while being pretty accountable for their actions, as their ability to score while shorthanded attests. But it's still a lunch-pail, hard-working team like Philadelphia fans have come to expect that starts with Richards, Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble, Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall and Riley Cote up front and the likes Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Andrew Alberts and Randy Jones on defense.
The fine line?
"We want to make it physical between the whistles," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "I think it's very important that we move our feet and finish our checks and get people pushed off the puck."
In Calgary and Philadelphia, the in-your-face success this season is as much about setting the tone for the game. That's the way those teams show their opponent they are ready to play, battling for every inch of the ice. But there so much more to the very being of those teams, because they can win any way you want -- finesse and skill or being in-your-face. That's what it takes to win in the playoffs.
The Flames proved they were versatile in that regard in 2004, when they went to the Final before losing in seven games to Tampa Bay. The Flyers made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year before being ousted by Pittsburgh.
The Flames and Flyers are testing that mentally tough approach early -- and making it work.
Center stage -- That was no one-line team in Vancouver when Mats Sundin joined the Canucks for the first time Jan. 7 at Edmonton. But it wasn't Sundin, Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond or Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Pavol Demitra who stole the show, it was Vancouver's checking line of Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Steve Bernier -- with Bernier scoring twice within 12 seconds and Burrows also scoring in a three-goal, second-period outburst that carried the Canucks to a 4-2 triumph.
Clearly, the Canucks have passed the test of remaining competitive in the tough Northwest Division. And now they are almost whole.
1-0. That's Vancouver's record in this new era in the team's history.
Bergeron was able to begin light exercise less than two weeks after suffering his second concussion in 14 months.
"He's been improving every day," said Chiarelli. "He's in good spirits. There's no comparison between the two concussions."
Center of attention -- It's no secret that the Colorado Avalanche would be weak up the middle after losing Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny and trying to move Tyler Arnason up to the top two lines. The dilemma caused coach Tony Granato to send Wojtek Wolski back to his roots, when he was a center for Brampton in juniors. The converted winger had three shots and three hits but no points in his first game at center in a 2-0 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 3. Three nights later, Wolski had both goals in a 2-1 win vs. Nashville while adding six shots, one hit, two takeaways and one blocked shot. Said Wolski, "You'd be amazed how fast the responsibilities of playing center are coming back to me." ... Owen Nolan scored both goals in Minnesota's 2-0 victory against the Avalanche, extending his goal-scoring streak to three games since returning on New Year's Eve from a leg injury. Nolan is the first player in three years to score a goal in each of his first three games after missing at least three weeks. The last player to do so was then St. Louis winger Lee Stempniak in 2006. ... Even without Pat Kane (ankle injury), the Blackhawks continue to net goals at a fast pace. If it isn't Jonathan Toews or Kris Versteeg, it's Andrew Ladd or Ben Eager or Adam Burish or Dave Bolland or Troy Brouwer. ... Patrick Sharp had a career-high 36 goals last season. He's on pace for better this season -- he could become the first Blackhawk to net 40 since Tony Amonte had 43 goals in 1999-2000. ... The offense-starved Nashville Predators are holding their breath for the return of sniper Steve Sullivan on Saturday against Chicago. The quick and productive winger had 158 points in 150 games with the Predators before he was sidelined with a back injury in February 2007 that required two surgeries and months of rehab before he was cleared to play again. ... We talk a lot about chemistry. The chemistry for Dallas' Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson was instantaneous last season after Richards came to the Stars from Tampa Bay. Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen and James Neal have clicked since they were put together. Ditto for Steve Ott with Mike Ribeiro and either Fabian Brunnstrom or Toby Peterson. ... Goalie Chris Osgood had everyone in Detroit excited after a 3-2 shootout win vs. Minnesota on Jan. 3, reminding teammates of the way the little goalie played in the playoffs last spring. While sidelined with a strained groin, Ozzie watched tapes of last year's playoffs, trying to determine what worked for him then that hasn't gone right this season. He also worked on some technical aspects of his game in practice -- all of this even though he has a 13-2-4 record this season (but his save percentage is a woeful .880). ... In an attempt to get Jonathan Cheechoo back on track as a goal scorer, Sharks coach Todd McLellan recently put Cheech back with Joe Thornton. But the line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi was so good for so long don't be surprised to be them together again real soon. ... Want to know about a weird stat? R.J. Umberger had 13 goals in the regular season and another 10 in 17 playoff games for the Philadelphia Flyers last season. This season, he's had 6 goals in eight games against Eastern Conference opponents and just five in 32 games against Western foes. ... With seven game-winners among his 30 NHL goals, Edmonton center Andrew Cogliano is showing Oilers fans he can dazzle them with his speed and endear them with his durability, having played 119 games without missing one. ... With veterans Teemu Selanne (injury) and Corey Perry (suspension) out of the lineup, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle chose an interesting player to play up front of the Ducks' No. 1 power-play unit -- Sammy Pahlsson. Normally, a defensive-minded battler, Pahlsson was doing his battling in front of the net, where he tipped in the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win vs. Los Angeles on Jan. 6. In three of the first four games with Pahlsson on the power play, the Ducks scored two PPGs. Said Caryle, "He's out there to take the faceoffs and has won more than 63 percent of those in the past few games. Then he goes to the net and be a little like Tomas Holmstrom."
Time machine -- Chris Chelios crept up on a interesting statistic Jan. 6 in Detroit's 3-0 win vs. Columbus. It was the soon-to-be 47-year-old Red Wings defenseman's 880th career victory. That pushed him past former Washington-St. Louis-New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens, who had 879. ... Steve Bernier's two goals in 12 seconds at Edmonton on Jan. 7 were the fastest two goals by a Canucks player since Thomas Gradin scored a like 12 seconds apart against the same Edmonton team back on March 16, 1983. ... Washington and San Jose have taken home-ice advantage to a different level this season. The Capitals' 2-1 shootout win vs. Philadelphia on Jan. 6 raised their home record to 18-1-1. San Jose was 17-0-2 in its first 19 home games. Prior to this season, the Boston Bruins in 1973-74, when they were 18-0-1, had as many home points in their first 19 games. ... Carolina's 3-1, 2-1, 3-2 and 3-2 victories in a recent four-game winning streak marked the first time in Hartford/Carolina franchise history that the team has won four consecutive games while scoring no more than three goals in any of those games.
Datsyukian moves -- Being fast and quick with a vision and quick mind create the kind of moves Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk used in faking Minnesota goalie Josh Harding out of his shorts for a 3-2 shootout victory Jan. 3. Three nights later, Datsyuk had 1 goal and 2 assists, the last assist coming when Pavel kicked the puck ahead soccer-style some 25 feet to Henrik Zetterberg for an empty-net goal against Columbus. Said Datsyuk, "I don't know all my moves myself. Maybe some come in a dream."