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Shuffling the deck

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames
The deck had been shuffled.

Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter, looking to spark his team out of a three-game losing streak, shuffled his lines at practice Thursday.

The biggest move, of course, is at the top. Sutter plans to use Craig Conroy at center with Curtis Glencross on the left wing and Jarome Iginla on the right wing as the Flames first line against Vancouver on Friday. (7 pm, The Fan 960 and Sportsnet West).

"Just trying to shake things up," said Conroy, who has been Iginla's center at various times throughout his career with the Flames. "It happened a little last season. It could be for just a shift, a game. Who knows?"

Truth be told, it doesn't matter to Conroy -- he'll take the opportunity to play with his longtime buddy and main offensive threat any time he can.

"I always love playing with Iggy...We've always had a connection over the all these years," said Conroy.

Here's how the rest of the lines looked at practice on Thursday: Dawes-Langkow-Bourque; Sjostrom-Jokinen-Nystrom; McGrattan-Boyd-Prust. The d-pairings were Bouwmeester-Sarich; Regehr-Phaneuf; Pardy-Giordano and Kronwall-Johnson.

The Flames began the season with a four-game win streak, defeating Vancouver, Edmonton (twice) and Montreal before falling to Dallas at home, losing in overtime in Chicago on Monday and then falling 2-1 in Columbus Tuesday. Throughout the seven games the Flames have been an inconsistent group, swinging from world-beaters who dominate the game to a team that gets dominated. For that reason Sutter still considers this year's version of the Flames a work in progress. But it is a work he would like to see progress a little faster.

"To me, I look at this year as a fresh start. I haven't changed my outlook on that. It's a fresh start for everybody. New coaching staff. New players. What's gone on in the past is the past. This is the way we're doing it now," he said.

The way the Flames want to do it is with a strong forecheck, fearless and flawless play in the neutral zone and attention to the defensive side of the puck.

"It's something you work on on a daily basis," said Sutter. "Could take a day. Could take two weeks. Could take two months," said Sutter. "Everyone likes to see goals and that kind of stuff but you look at any teams that have had success and they have buckled down defensively."

Sutter said the buy-in from players has been good. It's just that, sometimes, they stray from what they are being asked and, as a result, let "some bad things creep in."

Beginning Friday the Flames have five games at home and are in Calgary for roughly three weeks. The games are a chance to make some obvious hay against Western Conference opponents and the days between games are times for practice and repetition of the systems Sutter and his staff are putting in place.

On Wednesday the team spent time in the video room, reviewing their play. Thursday they put that knowledge to work in practice.

"We're spending way too much time in our own zone," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "It doesn't matter how good you are defensively, if you're playing in your zone too much, you are going to give up opportunities and shots and goals. We know we need to get better."

Conroy agree, noting that one way to play in the opposition end is to have a quick forecheck that forces turnovers -- a job he feels he and Glencross can do on the top line.

"Glennie brings speed. He hits hard. We have to be physical on our forecheck. We have to finish checks and create turnovers," said Conroy.

Added Sutter: "We want to get our game in order as quickly as possible. We're a committed group to getting it done."

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