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What's inside is most important for Iginla, Richards

Saturday, 01.10.2009 / 1:00 AM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

Jarome Iginla fits that perfect power forward role at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. Mike Richards is only 5-11, but tips the scales at close to 200. It's clearly not the size that makes a perfect power player. It's what's in the gut.

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.

Hurricane warning -- The coaching change in Carolina that had Peter Laviolette replaced by Paul Maurice didn't draw a lot of attention early. But we are seeing a more defined game plan with the Hurricanes, who went to 9-4-3 under Maurice following a 3-2 victory against New Jersey on Jan. 6. Said Canes goaltender Cam Ward, "There's a discipline pressure on the puck, two men in, all over the ice." Ward has a reason to be happy playing behind this new system -- he's 8-2-1 in his last 11 starts. ... Florida Panthers GM Jacques Martin will soon sit down with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to try to convince the free-agent-to-be to stay in South Florida. There's a strong belief that Bouwmeester has no interest in staying. Sources indicate Martin won't trade Bouwmeester until the March 4 deadline, when he would likely get the best package of players, prospects or draft choices. ... Deja vu? The Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly are shopping for somebody to play alongside center Sidney Crosby, just like they were last season before they acquired rental player Marian Hossa, who helped take the Pens to the Stanley Cup Final. If smoke leads to fire on the rumor front, then Pittsburgh's No. 1 target could be Chicago winger Martin Havlat, who is also scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. ... Even though Boston's goaltending tandem of Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents July 1, word around the Boston dressing room is that management doesn't want to ruin the chemistry that has been built this season and there will be no goalie dealt from Boston before the trade deadline. ... The Washington Capitals are quick and explosive. But they still can't figure out who can keep the puck out of their net. Brent Johnson seemed ready to claim the No. 1 job from expensive free-agent Jose Theodore twice before a hip injury stalled his momentum. Now, Theodore is on a roll -- sort of. He improved on his .892 save percentage in a 2-1 shootout victory vs. Philadelphia on Jan. 6, turning back 33 shots in regulation and overtime. ... Talk about a streaky scorer, Pittsburgh's Petr Sykora masters that title. He's scored his 15 goals this season in just nine games, which includes his first career hat trick and four 2-goal games -- the last of which came Jan. 6 in a 3-1 victory vs. Atlanta. ... Look out when Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis gets hot. His 2-goal game Jan. 4 against Atlanta was the third time in St. Louis's last 11 games that he scored two or more goals after not scoring multiple goals in any of his previous 78 games. ... One-line success? Not really. Jason Spezza's 2 goals in Ottawa's 4-2 loss to Buffalo on Jan. 6 gave the line of Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson 44 goals this season. That's the same amount as the rest of the Senators forwards and defensemen have. ... We're always looking for contributions from young players to rave about. Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler, son of former New York Rangers winger Jerry Butler, has added muscle, steadiness and puck movement to the Sabres lineup. In his nine games in the NHL, the fourth-round pick in the 2005 Entry Draft was a plus-5. ... If you're being asked to analyze last February's deadline deal between Atlanta and Pittsburgh in which Hossa and Pascal Dupuis went to the Penguins, don't forget that the Thrashers got Erik Christensen in the deal. While Christensen may not be lighting up the scoreboard, he's still young enough to come into his own as a scorer. What we do know, however, is that he's still one of the best shootout players in the game. He showed that once again recently when he scored to give Atlanta a shootout win vs. Vancouver on Jan. 2 to raise his shootout percentage to 57 (16 of 28), the highest career percentage among the 37 NHL players with at least 25 attempts. ... Brian Burke made his first trade since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs as GM -- and it came as no shock that it was a gritty, physical player. Getting a physical, team leader like Brad May from Anaheim for a conditional sixth-round draft choice in 2010 is just the first step by Burke to make the Leafs bigger, stronger and more difficult to play against. In case you didn't hear it, Burke also said he would not trade defensemen Tomas Kaberle or Pavel Kubina unless they offered to remove the no-trade option they have. It should be pointed out that under coach Ron Wilson, the Toronto defensemen have accounted for more than 80 points -- far better than previous Toronto defenses have put up in recent memory, one more sign that the Leafs are improving. Ian White is the biggest surprise among Toronto's offense from defense statistics.

 
 
Standing Pat -- Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli believes injured center Patrice Bergeron will play again this season. That's great news, considering his Dec. 20 concussion comes on the heels of concussions that sidelined for all but 10 games last season.

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."


Quote of the Day

Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

— Rangers forward Martin St. Louis to Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com