The discussion dates back to November when Iginla pulled within three tallies of the miraculous achievement, which would make him the 19th player in NHL history to accomplish the feat. It really ramped up following his 599th marker last Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes.
The 38-year-old has been asked and asked and asked about it, and while he can’t help but feel good about what he’s done in his incredible career, his attention is exactly where it should be entering Saturday’s contest against his former team, the Calgary Flames.
“It’s kind of cool, for sure. I’d be excited to get it against Calgary, but at the same time when it happens, it happens. We need to climb back in a playoff spot, and it’s an important game for us,” Iginla said in a bid to cast off the individual narrative following the morning skate in Denver. “That’s definitely a side story and not the focus by any means.”
“It’d be nice. It’s one of those things [where] I’m definitely thankful to be close to it and would love to get to it. I’ll hopefully enjoy getting it and everything, but then move past it and not have to talk about it and think about it. I’ve been enjoying it. The guys have been great and supportive, but they probably want to see me get it and it be over with too. We’ll see what happens.”
‘Nice’ is the word being bandied about now, a testament to just how little the team is truly worried about the momentous milestone.
“It would be nice, but let’s focus on playing a good game tonight as a team. Good things happen when you do those things,” head coach Patrick Roy said before admitting his squad needs to continue working on game management following back-to-back overtime losses on home ice.
The Avs went 9-3-2 in December, their best month of the 2015-16 season, and are hoping to continue the trend in January.
“It’s huge for us,” defenseman Tyson Barrie said of carrying over some consistency. “I didn’t get a real good chance to watch the last game, but it’s nice to get a point. Calgary is a good team and playing well.”
Barrie, who was a late scratch on Thursday due to flu-like symptoms, will return to the lineup this evening.
“I’m feeling really good. Just a 24-hour thing; a little flu,” he said. “I feel good now. Woke up yesterday and felt better, and then this morning, back to normal. I’m excited to get back in there.”
The 24-year-old rear guard will play a key role on the Avalanche power play, which has scored in five straight games after an extended drought. The club’s man-advantage play, coupled with having scored the first goal in 11 consecutive games, is a key reason for Colorado’s push toward a playoff berth.
“I think we just do what we’ve been doing all year, just try to be consistent,” Barrie said of keeping the extra-attacker streak going. “You know you’re going to go through rough patches with the power play. You’re going to go through times when you’re hot. That kind of evens it out. We’ve just got to stay even-keel, keep working the puck quick, getting shots, getting to the net and doing what we’re doing, and it’ll take care of itself.”
“There’s some good chemistry on the units, both units. Both units are playing well, getting chances,” Iginla said of what is clicking for Colorado’s special teams. “We’re competing hard and our confidence is growing. Once you start working some plays and they work out, everybody feels a little bit better. Guys who go on the specialty teams on both sides, you have some pressure and you put some pressure on yourselves. So if you can come through in some of those situations, it feels good.
“Confidence is a big part of making those nice plays, breaking seams with passes. Then you start getting some rhythm and we want to keep it going. It’s an important part of the game, and we know as good as it was yesterday, now teams are focusing more on it. We’d like to keep working at it and keep going.”
The Avalanche enters Saturday’s match with the ninth-best power play unit in the league (20.6 percent success), and the Flames landed in Denver with the lowest-ranked penalty kill (73.9 percent success). For some, that would spell a serious advantage for Colorado, but special-teams maestro Carl Soderberg sees it differently.
“They are important, but if they are struggling in special teams it makes them have another level,” the Swede said. “So we have to be ready tonight to have a good PK and good power play. That’s the key for us tonight.”
Soderberg plays on both the power play and the penalty kill and is lethal in both areas, especially when paired with linemate Blake Comeau.
“We work hard, and I think we’re both smart players,” Soderberg said of his penalty-killing tandem. “Good sticks, that’s the key in the PK. You have to work and win battles. I think Blake is really strong in battles and wins a lot of them. That’s our success.”
Soderberg will quietly reach a milestone of his own tonight in Denver when he takes the ice. He’ll be skating in his 200th NHL game.
“I didn’t know it was my 200th today, but that’s pretty nice,” he said. “Sometimes you have to think and realize that you really are in the NHL. All the hard work you have put in, it’s been working. Of course I’m happy for that.
“I think, like all kids [I wanted] to play in the NHL. Somewhere in the road, I didn’t think that much of the NHL, but all of the sudden four years ago, I wanted to try it again. Now, I’m here.”
Every game will feature at least some talk of Iginla until that 600th goal finds twine. It’s inevitable, like gravity and bad musical acts at universally watched sporting events.
Right Wing - COL
Goals: 599 | Assists: 647 | Pts: 1,246
Shots: 4,517 | +/-: 71
And while the Avalanche may have a singular focus on winning and climbing the ranks, the players are certainly looking to write a secondary narrative for their teammate.
“We’ve got a lot of reasons to have a good one tonight; one of them being we want to get Iggy that 600th,” Barrie said. “So it’s an exciting game for us and a fun one to be a part of.”
Nathan MacKinnon recently talked about trying to feed Iginla in San Jose, both because he wanted the right wing to tally a historic marker and because MacKinnon admitted he wanted the assist on it as well.
Yet just because players are looking to feed Iginla, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to completely pass up a scoring opportunity when the game is on the line.
“Once you get out there, it kind of becomes natural. You’re always looking for him, but you want to take the shot if you have the shot,” Barrie said. “You don’t have to try and force it too much because Iggy, he obviously seems to find a way to score goals when guys aren’t looking for him. You don’t want to change it up too much, but you’ll definitely know when you’re on the ice with him.”
Whenever a player nears a milestone, they often admit that the only goal they had when they started was to make and stay in the NHL. Everything after that is just a bonus.
“I think back to myself, I remember being in pee wee and you’re watching Rock‘Em Sock‘Em Hockey and watching guys on that list play,” Iginla said of the company he’ll keep with that 600th marker. “You dream of just getting to the NHL. It’s been a lot of fun being able to play as long as I have and with the players I have.
“When I started, I never thought I was going to get 600.”
He played through the dead puck era and still has success in the younger, faster and arguably more skilled game that is found on the ice today. Through all of that, Iginla said he doesn’t feel that he’s changed.
“I don’t know that I’ve changed too much. Most of the goals scored are around the net,” he admitted. “So for myself, I’m always trying to shoot. I’ve played with great playmakers. You try to get open for them. I’m playing with [Alex Tanguay] now and MacKinnon. There’s great opportunity there.
“After that, you want to get around the net. It’d be nice I guess to see more goals around the league being scored, but still a lot of them are off screens, deflections, rebounds. So the focus when trying to score is to make sure [you’re] trying to get there and battle around there and hopefully get some opportunities in there. I’ll be trying to do that tonight.”