It is the morning of yet another game that is dubbed the biggest of the season for the Calgary Flames. The Western Conference leaders, the San Jose Sharks, are in Calgary. There has been a brief, but brisk, morning skate. Captain Jarome Iginla
is one of the first off the ice. He is also one of the last out of the dressing room after the daily ritual of answering media questions.
A stand-up player in all his 13 seasons in Calgary, the 32-year-old Iginla chose the moment to stand up once again.
With the Flames battling for their playoff lives and knowing that they had to win three games to give themselves a chance to get to the post-season dance, Iginla was blunt and to the point about his performance and the performance of the team, two things that seem to go hand in hand.
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RIGHT WING - CGY
GOALS: 32 | ASST: 37| PTS: 69
SOG: 250 | +/-: - 1
"It's been hard," Iginla said. "Unfortunately this last little stretch, I haven't been playing very well. It's when you feel like the team needs it the most; needs all of us to be our best."
Following a 2-1 loss to the Sharks -- which, coupled with a Colorado shootout win over Vancouver officially eliminated the Flames from the post-season -- Iginla was again the stand-up guy. The first to address the media in a very solemn room.
"We feel like we failed and we did," said Iginla. "Kipper (goalie Miikka Kiprusoff
) shouldn't feel like that way. I think he has had one of his best seasons since the Vezina and maybe including that season. In front of him, we just didn't find enough offence. I think we all feel that way."
Nobody more than Iginla, though. For years the go-to guy on the ice, Iginla says he wasn't good enough. That he hasn't produced goals, assists and points enough to get his team wins.
“I’m going to be around 70 points,” said Iginla. “It’s not enough..."
Heading into the game, Iginla had 69 points, including 32 goals, both tops on the Flames. He has had five or six different centres this season -- from the departed Dustin Boyd to the current Matt Stajan
. He has had even more wingers.
He has had slumps and ups and downs. But, scoring just once in the last 14 games particularly bothers the captain.
"Look at tonight. I was due and couldn't get one," said Iginla.
For a scorer counted on to score on a team that doesn't score a lot, that's tough to deal with. And, with the Flames in a tooth-and-nail fight with Colorado for that final playoff spot in the West, it makes it even worse for a competitor like Iginla.
"I've had a tough stretch. We've had a lot of trouble scoring goals, and I know that's part of my role. When you lose 2-1 and 1-0, the group that's on the power play, the group that's in scoring positions and opportunities, that's your job," said Iginla.
That he has been asked about his offensive productivity just about every day for the past couple of weeks has also got to start wearing on the nerves. Recently his teammate and friend, Craig Conroy, suggested that Iginla just be left alone to play hockey and have some fun. The suggestion being that hockey is a team game and to put the Flames position all on Iginla is wholly unfair. Conroy may be right. But that's not Iginla's style or personality. If it was, he wouldn't have walked into the dressing room and answered, quite candidly, some tough questions on Tuesday.
Among the questions was how Iginla deals with media, radio talk shows and callers speculating on the trading of Iginla, for so long the face of the Flames franchise.
"It has been a tough year. I wish I were producing better, and we were in a better spot as a team," he said. "But it's part of that passion. As an athlete, I want to play where, when it's good, everyone is into it. The flip side is, when it's not, they're into it and they're upset."
It should be noted that neither the team nor Iginla have raised the topic of him leaving the Flaming C family. At the same time, Iginla understands how fans are feeling. To him, it is part of the game. Part of the rush of being a professional athlete. He is not one to leave the kitchen when the heat gets turned up and is more than happy playing in Calgary.
“It’s great on a family level,” he said “The family’s very happy here, it’s close to home. I’ve been here a long time, I kinda grew up here. Hockey-wise, the organization wants to win. It has been a tough year. I wish I was producing better. I wish we were in a better spot as a team right now.”
When asked to pinpoint the Flames predicament, Iginla, again, was very forthcoming. And again, he placed much on his own shoulders.
“If you break it down, I think we have a really good goalie -- a great goalie. Our defence is really good. Our fourth line has been solid, our third line we can put with anybody, our second line is playing well. Our first line, this year, we went 10 games without winning. How many 2-1 goal games were in there? Our power play, our top line, we needed to do more.”
Iginla, twice a Rocket Richard Trophy winner and the author of two 50-goal seasons was trying to find the answers. He was trying to help the team win.
“For the past so many games, I haven’t been very good. It’s not for lack of want or trying," he said.
No, it wasn't.
The final word goes to the captain who not be in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
"It stings," he said.