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Flames need Jokinen to break out of scoring slump

by Todd Kimberley /
CALGARY -- Brent Sutter, the resident landlord, said it loud and clear the other night.

The rent's due, and Olli isn't paying the bills.

Addressing the 800-pound elephant in the room -- otherwise known as the monumental offensive slump of $5.5-million-a-year man Olli Jokinen -- Sutter acknowledged that 2 goals in 19 games don't cut it for a first-line NHL forward.

"We certainly need production from him. I'm not going to deny that. I think he's fighting it a little bit, no question," the Flames' coach said following Calgary's 3-2 home-ice loss to Colorado on Tuesday. "He just has to keep pushing, and hopefully he can find his way, because we do need him to get production.

"He does play quality minutes, and he is one of our of our core group of guys. We need him to play up to his level, and part of that level is production. He's worked on other parts of his game to make it better, but we do need some offence from him."

Were this a problem limited to the past six weeks, it might be a little easier for the Flames' faithful to bear. But Jokinen's offensive troubles stretch back to last spring -- not long after he was acquired in a March 4 blockbuster trade with Phoenix that many believed would ensure a long playoff run in Calgary.

Jokinen, a former No. 3 overall draft pick, was a house afire during his first six games with the Flames. He scored 8 goals and enjoyed a five-point performance, which included a hat trick, on March 14 in Toronto.

Since then, however, the 29-year-old from Kuopio, Finland, has been colder than the ice around the net. Except for one two-goal outburst in Game 4 of the Flames' first-round series against Chicago, Jokinen didn't score during his final 19 regular-season and playoff games of 2008-09.

Combine that with his drought to begin 2009-10 and Jokinen had a paltry 4 goals in his previous 38 games heading into the Flames' home date against the Blackhawks on Thursday night.

"I think ... seven or eight times, I've hit the post so far this year," the 6-3, 215-pounder said after Thursday's morning skate. "Half of those go in, nobody would be questioning anything.

"You just want to work hard and play good as a line (he's on the Flames' top unit with Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross), and when you get those chances, you want to bear down. We've just got to find a way to score one more than they do."
"I think ... seven or eight times, I've hit the post so far this year. Half of those go in, nobody would be questioning anything." -- Olli Jokinen
Jokinen's protracted slump flies in the face of his steady production during the past six seasons. Since 2002-03 campaign, when he broke out with 36 goals for the Florida Panthers, Jokinen has averaged nearly 34 per season, including 39 in '06-07.

Jokinen has no shortage of well-meaning advice from his teammates and coaches.

Sutter himself, re-addressing the issue Thursday morning, said the snake-bitten center has "a big cloud over his head," and is "probably putting a little bit of extra pressure on himself ... he just needs to relax a little bit, here, and enjoy the game."

Fellow Flames forwards were also quick to commiserate, and comment on how much of the game is played between the ears.

"I don't think anyone on this team is worried about him, that's for sure," David Moss said. "When pucks aren't going in, you feel like you'll never score another goal, and when things are going well, everything seems to come easy. It's just working hard and trying to do all the little things right. When they start going in, you've got to try and keep that confidence."

Added Iginla, the Flames' captain -- who himself got off to a slow start before breaking out with 8 goals in the past seven games: "He's getting better and better every game; I think he's going to be breaking out pretty soon here. Most players are streaky, and he usually gets hotter as the season goes on. He's been through it before, and that's a good thing."

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