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Cameron working at improving Flames' power play

The Flames are putting heavy emphasis on their power play structure this season

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- The blueprint, says Dave Cameron, is as old as frozen cow pies being whacked through ice-chunk goal posts down a rural dirt road in the dead of winter.

"Right now, I'd say Washington,'' reckons the Calgary Flames' assistant coach, in his first season with the club and in charge of its power play. "For me, that's the best power play going.

"They've got a good half-wall guy.

"They've got a good goal-line guy.

"They've got Ovechkin, that guy with the big one-timer.

"They've got a good shot from the top.

"They've got everything you need. All the parts."

In a league, a game, more and more dominated by special teams, the power play can be what separates the wheat from the chaff.

Calgary ranked a distant 22nd (17.0%) operating a man to the good a year ago.

Being able to inject their most creative player, Johnny Gaudreau, back into the PP mix in time to start the season, should surely act as a whiff of oxygen as the Flames go in search of re-establishing their playoff worthiness.

"You could see we went back to the power play early, got him out on the ice early, trying get him up to speed and some some practice,'' said coach Glen Gulutzan following Tuesday's skate, Gaudreau's first since signing a six-year contract.

"And to be quite honest it was the best power play has probably looked in the season."

Small smile.

"Must be the coaching."

For defenceman Dougie Hamilton, sticking with PP personnel, even through the inevitable down times, is the ingredient separating effective power plays from poor ones.

Familiarity is key. Too much tinkering can be deadly.

"The biggest thing,'' he says, "is continuity. Last year, when we stuck with the same unit towards the end there we played a lot better, were a lot more effective.

"You get used to where guys are going to be and everything's just easier; it becomes natural.

"When it's constantly changing, different guys are being taken out and others plugged in, nothing's automatic. You find yourself guessing.

"If you look at the best PPs in the league - San Jose, Washington, Chicago, Boston - you know who they'll be throwing out there. They've been together for a while now."

"A good power play needs skill, of course,'' adds Cameron. "But it also has to have that hockey word you hear all the time - chemistry. And it has to have hunger. Just because you've got an extra player doesn't guarantee anything if he's not used properly."

A certain certain basic ruthlessness is required, adds Cameron, in every good power play.

So if it's art you crave, try the Musée d'Orsay in Paris or London's National Gallery.

"You have to have a shooter's mentality,'' he says. "Shooting is what sets the wheels in motion.

"In the National Hockey League, penalty killing is extremely disciplined until there's a shot on net and a rebound. Very rarely can you pass the puck into the net.

"But get a shot, create confusion in the defensive structure and that's when things tend to break down.

"That's exactly what a shooter's mentality does. Do it, and then the natural skill level of the people out on your power play can take over."

That skill level, as everyone knows, took a quantum leap late Sunday afternoon with the signing of Gaudreau, the team's top power play point-getter a year ago, at 21.

"It's great to have him back,'' says Hamilton. "He's a guy who can set up goals on the power play and score them. He's a huge part of our team and the same thing on the power play.

"He can create things out of nothing.

"He just makes everything … better."

One of the new pieces being plugged into the first unit is right winger Troy Brouwer.

"You need different looks on your power play,'' says Cameron. "He's a right-hand shot, but there are lots of right-hand shots.

"This is a proven NHL power play guy in terms of executive, positioning, combat-level.

"He's a great addition."

And not afraid to shoot the puck.

"What the coaches are try to instill in us … if you look around the league, the best power plays get some face-off wins and shots right away,'' echoes an integral part of the PP (as well as everything else), skipper Mark Giordano.

"Every piece of the power play is important but I think that mindset, that shooting mentality, is so important. You can generate momentum and create instant zone time that way.

"We have to change our mentality from always making that perfect play. Just because you have an extra guy out there, you still have to get pucks to the net and outnumber them. There's a lot of good examples of that but the one that comes to mind is San Jose.

"They score a lot of goals off second chances and rebounds and that's because they put pucks to the net.

"We need to do that more, too."

Inarguably, it's an area that needs cleaning up if the Flames are to make a serious run at netting a second playoff berth in three seasons.

The quest began on Wednesday, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, when Dennis Wideman scored the Flames first goal with the man advantage this season.

"All coaches,'' says Dave Cameron, "from junior hockey to the American Hockey League to the National Hockey preach the same stuff on the power play.

"There are no deep secrets.

"A power play needs buy-in and it needs execution. It needs the right type of players with the right mentality.

"I like what we've got."

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