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Propelled by the power play

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- There's no question the Calgary Flames have been one of the NHL's hottest teams in 2011 and a major reason for their success has been the efficiency of their power play.

The Flames have the fourth best power play on home ice, connecting 23.9% of the time, and the 11th best overall with a success rate of 18.4%.

Calgary has netted six goals with the man advantage over the past four games, winning three of those outings.

"The power play, it's huge for us," defenceman Mark Giordano said. "Games right now come down to a single chance so if you can capitalize when you're on the power play, there's a good chance you'll have a good end result."

Specialty teams haven't been the Flames forte all season. Their power play sputtered early in the year, unable to even generate decent scoring chances let alone goals.

Hours of practice time was devoted to revamping the power play yet nothing seemed to yield positive results in games. The time spent with the man advantage often seemed stilted, jittery and many players looked like they were trying too hard to make the highlight reel play instead of just getting the puck to the net.

"We've been working at all year, even if we weren't scoring much early on," Giordano shrugged when asked what the difference was. "We've changed things up as we've went along and it seems like we've found what works best for us."

Since the Flames turnaround in late December, their power play has become more fluid. The focus has shifted to being able to garner second and third opportunities around the net instead of simply firing off a shot with little or no traffic around the goaltender. They've fought harder in puck battles, been more aggressive around the crease and have brought a crash-and-bang mentality to their attack strategy.

They've also utilized the defence in generating offensive. Anton Babchuk's presence on the point has led to several goals thanks to his booming shot.

"He's done a really good job for our power play," fellow blueliner Robyn Regehr said of Babchuk's play. "I don't know what the numbers are exactly but I think our power play has been going along at a pretty good clip here in the last couple months and I think he's a big part of that. He's got a great shot, is very dangerous from the point and moves the puck well."

Head coach Sutter cited the players emotional investment in improving their power as the chief factor in its current success.

"For the most part, there has been more intensity and more urgency on our power play like there needs to be. It's a variation of different things and the guys have taken it to heart a little bit, to want to make sure it is a difference in games. That's important too. It's a combination of a lot of different things and when you put it all together and you have success with it, it builds confidence."

With several proverbial four-point games coming up during the stretch drive, Sutter knows specialty teams will be key in the Flames earning a playoff spot.

"When you look at goals-for at the end of the year and say that your power play was, when you look at it since Christmas, in the top ten, it makes a significant difference if your power play is producing ... we need our power play to keep on rolling for us. It's crucial."

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