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Around the West: Feaster's approach good for Sutter

Friday, 02.11.2011 / 10:08 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Around the West: Feaster's approach good for Sutter
The Flames certainly have played better, but one NHL analyst believes a major reason for the team's rise in the standings has been a change in the message from the GM's office.
The list of reasons for Calgary's turnaround from bottom feeder to playoff contender over the last month and a half is long. Their team defense has improved, their goaltending is much better and their offense has more continuity and balance, so as a result the Flames have gone from last in the conference to eighth entering the weekend.

But as NHL Network analyst Craig Button notes, the change in the Flames' front office from former GM Darryl Sutter to acting GM Jay Feaster should not be undersold, either. Button, himself a former Flames' GM who still lives in the city, told NHL.com that Feaster has brought a different perspective that may very well be helping coach Brent Sutter.

Feaster took over for the fired Sutter on Dec. 28 and the Flames are 12-3-4 since. They're 8-0-1 over their last nine games.

"Darryl was a darn good coach, but as a GM I think he looked at the game through a coaching lens," said Button. "Jay has not been a coach and doesn't have to enter the discussion with Brent looking through that lens. He can bring different perspectives and it allows Brent to perhaps take those and apply them. Sometimes the same things seen different and expressed from a very different perspective can have a very positive result. I believe that has occurred in Calgary."

Of course, it helps that goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last eight starts and no more than three in any of them. It also helps that the Flames' offense has scored 34 goals over its last nine games.

"Earlier they were not scoring very much and (Kiprusoff's) margin for error was very slim," Button said.

Sutter, Button said, has found the right mix and is slotting guys into their proper positions.

Brendan Morrison has worked well centering for Jarome Iginla and the now-injured Alex Tanguay. Button said that is important because Olli Jokinen is not suited to play with Iginla, which he was doing earlier in the season.

"Jokinen can play without the pressure of playing with Jarome, and can play with those who complement his game," Button said.

The Flames are scoring despite not getting much from Rene Bourque, who had 11 goals in his first 22 games, but only 5 in his last 32. Button is looking to Bourque for more offense in the wake of Tanguay's injury -- he's listed as day-to-day with a neck strain.

"If Rene Bourque can get his level of play higher the Flames will be even better," Button said. "I think he is the guy who has to step into the void in Tanguay's absence."

Button also said Robyn Regehr has been a force on the back end, "an intimidating figure who really makes the opposition uncomfortable." And fellow blueliner Cory Sarich is playing big minutes and also making life difficult for the other team.

"That also takes the pressure off Jay Bouwmeester and allows him to just play his game," Button said.

Let's go west and take a tour around the Central, Northwest and Pacific divisions. The teams are listed in order of where they stand in the playoff race:

1.
Vancouver (35-11-9, 79 points)

The Canucks have a firm grasp on the top spot, but you have to wonder if they can hold onto it as they are besieged by injuries to their blue-line corps. Alexander Edler is out indefinitely after having back surgery. Keith Ballard won't be back until March due to a knee injury. Dan Hamhuis got dinged by Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf on Wednesday and his status for Saturday's game against Calgary is unknown. Vancouver has an NHL-best plus-55 goal-differential, but their biggest challenge right now is how they cope with the injuries to three of their top six defensemen.


2.
 Detroit Red Wings (32-16-6, 70 points)

The Red Wings better hope they don't have to face Nashville in the playoffs because it would appear the Predators have their number. Nashville beat Detroit twice in a span of four days by a combined 7-1 score. The Red Wings have sputtered a bit, losing three of four (they also lost to Columbus). They have four straight games upcoming against Eastern Conference teams, including a Friday-Sunday home-and-home with the Bruins that begins in Boston. Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said after Wednesday's 4-1 loss that team defense has to be better in front of goalie Jimmy Howard.


3.
 Dallas Stars (30-18-6, 66 points)

All of a sudden the Stars' grip on the Pacific Division is about as loose as an untied skate. Dallas' four-game winless streak (0-3-1), coupled with San Jose's five-game winning streak, have put the teams in a dead heat for third seed in the West, and the Coyotes are only one point back. The Stars needed a win Wednesday in Phoenix, but they came away with a loser's point instead. They blew a pair of one-goal leads and lost 3-2 in overtime. James Neal has gone cold over the last five games and Jamie Langenbrunner hasn't provided any consistent offense since he arrived a month ago.


4.
 San Jose Sharks (30-19-6, 66 points)

The Sharks are proof of what we've been talking about all season, that any kind of winning or losing streak seriously can alter the conference landscape. They've won five in a row and are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. Even more impressive is only three of their last 10 games have been at home. They've outscored the opposition 31-18 and recently won back-to-back games at Boston and at Washington by the same 2-0 margin. The Sharks are grinding through a season-high seven-game road trip that continues Friday in New Jersey. Antti Niemi has allowed only five goals in his last four starts.


5.
 Nashville Predators (29-19-7, 65 points)

The Predators sacrificed a lot to pry Mike Fisher out of Ottawa, but at least they know exactly what they're getting. Fisher is a hard-working, two-way center who will fit in with the hard-working, two-way Predators. He'll have to chip in offensively for this marriage to work, but he will be an essential piece to the Predators' puzzle, both on the ice and off. Fisher cost them the Preds their 2011 first-round pick, and possibly a conditional pick in 2012, but the move is littered with potential positives. Fisher has played in a Stanley Cup Final; none of his new teammates have.


6.
 Phoenix Coyotes (28-19-9, 65 points)

After a tough stretch the Coyotes appear to have found their way again. Good teams usually do. They've won three in a row, including Wednesday's come-from-behind overtime victory at Dallas, plus back-to-back shutouts of Minnesota and Colorado. The key, as usual, has been the improved play Phoenix is getting from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who has come out of his funk with three phenomenal performances in a row. He's also facing fewer shots, which is a sign that the Coyotes have also tightened their defense. That was a leaky issue when they lost six out of eight between Jan. 17 and Feb. 2.


7.
 Anaheim Ducks (30-21-4, 64 points)

Say what you want about the Ducks re-acquiring Francois Beauchemin in a trade with Toronto on Wednesday, but with Beauchemin, Toni Lydman, Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler, Andreas Lilja, Andy Sutton, Luca Sbisa, Sheldon Brookbank and Paul Mara, the team is operating from a position of strength when it comes to the blue line. Ducks GM Bob Murray probably will try to trade one of the defensemen before the Feb. 28 deadline, but now he can do it with a clear conscience knowing he's already upgraded the group for the stretch run.


8.
 Calgary Flames (28-21-7, 63 points)

It wasn't long ago that the Flames looked dead, that they couldn't keep anything out of their net or put anything in the opposition's goal. They are 12-3-4 since Jay Feaster took over for Darryl Sutter as acting GM. They even caught what appears to be a good break with Alex Tanguay's neck injury that erroneously was diagnosed as a concussion. Tanguay went from being out indefinitely to day-to-day in a matter of a press release. The Flames have put themselves in a good position, and now we'll see if Feaster has the ability to make it better by the trade deadline.


9.
 Minnesota Wild (28-20-5, 61 points)

Yet another team right in the hunt. Boy, is this going to be interesting as it comes down the stretch. Who in this conference is going to fade? The Wild? It certainly doesn't appear it'll be them. They've won seven out of their last nine games, including a 3-2 win against Colorado on Wednesday. The good news is there really is no news of note around the Wild right now. They're playing well, getting solid goaltending and winning, for the most part. They just have to keep it up because it doesn't appear any team in the West is ready to let down yet.


10.
 Los Angeles Kings (29-22-3, 61 points)

They're four games into a 10-game road trip and they're 2-0-2. If they can split the next six games and finish the road trip 5-3-2, they'd have to consider it a success. It also would be enough to keep them in the playoff race as they head home to play 14 of their final 22 games at Staples Center, where the Kings are 17-9-1 this season. They have quite the weekend ahead, however, with games Saturday in Washington and Sunday in Philadelphia.


11.
 Chicago Blackhawks (28-22-4, 60 points)

Chicago legend Denis Savard on Thursday at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp said the Blackhawks, if they make the playoffs, will be a team nobody wants to face. He's probably right about that, and he cited their now-experienced group of core players. He also said we still have to give players like Viktor Stalberg, Jake Dowell and now the recently acquired Michael Frolik time because that's what players like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg were afforded. If the Hawks can get into the playoffs -- and it's a big if -- Savard believes it'll be a coming-out party of sorts for the younger players. However, he wasn't offering any guarantees.


12.
 Columbus Blue Jackets (26-23-5, 57 points)

A three-game winning streak gave the Blue Jackets hope, but then they lost to San Jose on Wednesday, so they still find themselves 12th in the conference. They play four of their next six games at home, followed by a five-game road trip starting Feb. 27. This should be a defining stretch for Columbus, which is trying to prove to GM Scott Howson that he shouldn't be a seller at the deadline. We'll see.


13.
 St. Louis Blues (24-20-8, 56 points)

The Blues had a brutal January, going 2-8-2, but they've already gained five of a possible six points this month and once again can think they're in the playoff race. They haven't exactly beaten the best in knocking off Edmonton and Florida, which is why this weekend's Friday-Saturday home-and-home against the Wild is so important. If they can take all four points, the Blues would jump right into the mix. St. Louis has experienced a good bump since Andy McDonald's return from a concussion three games ago.


14.
 Colorado Avalanche (25-23-6, 56 points)

Peter Forsberg is expected to take the morning skate Friday in Columbus and hopefully will play in the game later that night. That's the good news, but it's about the only bit of good news for the Avalanche, who learned Thursday that T.J. Galiardi (wrist) and Kyle Cumiskey (head) will be out indefinitely and Craig Anderson had to leave the team for personal reasons. Colorado has lost five in a row and seven of eight. It has only 14 goals over its 1-7-0 stretch.


15.
 Edmonton Oilers (16-30-8, 40 points)

Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner are answering questions about trade rumors swirling around them. The Edmonton Journal reported Thursday that both players said they want to stay, but it's not their call. The Oilers are looking to continue their rebuild, so if GM Steve Tambellini is wowed by a team looking to acquire either player, you can bet he'd pull the trigger, especially considering both hold cap hits of more than $4 million through the end of next season.


Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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