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Iginla a power forward, strong leader

by Phil Coffey
Jarome Iginla is a dichotomy. On the ice, he is as tough and fearless a player as you can hope to find. Off the ice, especially in his role as the Calgary Flames' captain, he is bright, smart and generally reserved.

He's one of those "walk softly, but carry a big stick" guys. So during a recent road trip through New York it was a treat to see Iginla up close as one of the NHL's marquee players and also one of its class guys. You can see where being a teammate of Iginla is one of those accomplishments that will be cherished long down the road, much as we saw from the former teammates of Trevor Linden who journey to Vancouver to see his No. 16 retired Wednesday night.

"As far as being vocal, I've been here for 12 years and I'm 31 years old, so each year you feel more comfortable," Iginla said of getting his message across. "I wouldn't say I'm quiet or anything, but there are certain things that as a group you have to address.

"Part of being a captain is understanding it's definitely not just one guy. It's important to have help in assistants and older guys that have been around. We have all seen different things and bring different things to the table. It's important to be able to lean on each other because sometimes we're all seeing different things."

That might seem especially important for a team coached by Mike Keenan, known to be a volatile personality. But Iginla said "Iron Mike" hasn't been a daunting obstacle to team harmony.

"From guys who have had him before, I wouldn't name any names, but a few have said that he has mellowed quite a bit," Iginla said. "He's still very intense and one thing as players who play for him, we do appreciate his passion and his competitiveness. Some coaches, if you're losing they're upset, which they obviously should be, but even when you're winning they're worried that you don't really fully enjoy it. He gives us a lot of respect as players that if we are doing things right we can be happy, we can enjoy it. He's the happiest of the bunch when we get a win and it's fun to watch. He loves winning that much and it's contagious. As a group we have that response. He doesn't have to walk around and make sure we're smiling.

"You definitely have that extra edge to win because as happy as he is when we're winning, it's pretty close to as grumpy when we're losing," Iginla said. "We accept that as players and deal with it on the tough days, but we stick together and try to back our focus to get another streak because they are fun when he's happy."

And that happiness may stem from the Flames icing a better team that the one that finished 2007-08 with a 42-30-10 mark.

"I think we are a better team," Iginla agreed. "I think we have more potential this year. We have more depth and we're a quicker team. All the way through the lineup we have been able to get goals in different spots. We have a very similar defense. Earlier in the year, we were a little soft in letting goals go in, but I think we're a quicker team that is able to move the puck better. We're getting more shots and from the skating we're getting more goals all the way through. I don't think we have had that as much in the past. This year, (Curtis) Glencross and (Rene) Bourque have scored some big goals. (David) Moss, too, and (Dustin) Boyd has had a good push for us. In tight games we have been finding goals on every line."

Brodeur on the mend -- New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters Wednesday that goaltender Martin Brodeur no longer needs to wear the restrictive brace on his left arm and has stepped up his rehab from his torn biceps tendon.

"He is progressing on schedule," Lamoriello said. "It's between him, the doctor and the physical therapist and it's all going very well."
Brodeur had surgery on Nov. 6 to reattach the tendon near his left elbow. The brace prevented him from bending his arm while the tendon fused to the bone. The recovery time of three to four months remains the same.

Tough times for Senators -- Safe to say that no one around the Ottawa Senators envisioned the team sitting in the Northeast Division basement at this point in the season. Nor did anyone figured that scoring goals -- 67 heading into play Friday -- would be so difficult.

Looking at the bright side, the Senators have allowed just 74 goals through 29 games and were just six points out of a playoff berth. But frustration is building, especially after a home loss to Atlanta on Tuesday.

"If you're suggesting that there's an automatic trade or something, it's a lot easier said than done," General Manager Bryan Murray told Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen. "I realize everyone has an opinion and should have an opinion, and I've pursued a number of general managers. There are players we can probably get because of their (high) salaries and teams want to move them, or maybe they're not any better than what we have here at this point in time, so I'm a little bit hesitant to do that kind of a deal.

"I've certainly talked to some managers about more of a quality player type of trade, and I would like to do something to shake up the team, to at least give the players an impression that we're doing something to make it better for them, but, at the moment, that just doesn't seem to be available."

To paraphrase new Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, his brethren in the GM community are offering anchors instead of life preservers.

At the heart of the matter, Murray told Warren he can't put his finger on the reason why his roster looks better on paper than on the ice.

"I watch a number of players who I know have played at a very high level, certainly regarded around the League as top-level players, and I don't think we're getting the results from them that we have to get," he said. "It's an internal thing from them, as well. We can point the finger at everybody around them, but the bottom line is good players should be good players unless they're playing hurt or unless they've reached a stage where they're on the decline, but that's not the case here.

"I don't think there's anybody at that stage of their career, so that's why we made some commitments to some people here, to get continued improvements and results from them. It is astounding that we don't score goals, in particular. We have that ability. That's not the coach, that's not the manager, that's the player doing, to the best of their ability, what they can do."

Movin' on up
-- While few would have envisioned the Senators' struggles, it is likely a similar small number would have figured the youthful Chicago Blackhawks to be headed into the League's elite at this stage of their development. After all, both Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane are in just their second seasons and the team already made a coaching change this season.

Heading into play Friday, the Hawks were 16-6-7 and had clobbered the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday by a 9-2 count.

"I don't really know what it is, if it's chemistry right now or everyone playing the system," Kane told reporters. "It's something you can't really explain, but we'll take it. I think everyone is feeling good about themselves and everyone is putting up points."

Plus, the goaltending pair of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet has been playing great, the defense is air-tight and the forwards are racking up the points. On special teams, the Hawks are in the top 10 in penalty killing and on the power play.

"We're young, we have a lot of heart on this team, and we know we're good," Troy Brouwer said. "We go out there and we know we can win every night, and when we want to, we play to win."

Coach Joel Quenneville isn't going to blow his team's horn too loudly at this stage of the season, but a toot of the horn is appropriate.

"It's been a fun little run we're on right now," Quenneville said. "It's a good foundation in reinforcing our team game, knowing that's a priority. If we get those habits of checking well, I think offensively there's not a concern because it's there. It's just learning to how to play the game and the score, and with a checking mentality, we can create."

Big Bruins bounce -- Staying with a theme, few would have envisioned …

You get the point, but in the case of the Boston Bruins and Phil Kessel, it remains valid. Both player and team are enjoying tremendous seasons, with the Bruins right among the League's elite as the season approaches the halfway mark.

Kessel also is enjoying a great season, sitting with 19 goals in 30 games that already matched his career high in 82 games last season.

"Whenever you're winning, it makes the game a lot better," Kessel said. "When you come to the rink, you're winning games, you have a lot of fun, you enjoy it even more. We have a great bunch of guys. … You show up to the rink, you have a lot of fun with all the guys, they are all great guys, and I think we all get along so well."

So what's the change this season?

"I don't know, we're just playing our game," he said. "We're going out there, working hard, trying to do all the little things, just improving as a team. I think a lot has to do with how close we are as a team. I think everyone gets along really well on our team. We all would do anything for another guy on our team."

As for his own production, Kessel isn't wasting time or energy analyzing it.

"You just go out there and play," he said. "You don't worry about the points, that kind of stuff. I never worried about points my whole life. You go out there and play and you hope to play good hockey and points will come.

"You know, you just learn," he said. "When you first come in the League, you know some guys can step in right away and produce a lot of points. But you just learn. Playing in the NHL is a different game. The guys are big and strong. You've got to work to get points and help your team win hockey games. And you just learn how good players really are in the NHL."

Another waiting game -- Hey, remember Peter Forsberg? Sure you do. "Foppa" hasn't been in the news as much as Mats Sundin of late, but he too is considering a return this season if his troublesome foot cooperates.

Should Forsberg return, his destination will likely be the Colorado Avalanche.

"As we've said before, until he makes a decision about his health, we can't make any decision as a club," GM Francois Giguere said.

Forsberg, 35, told Denver media he will attempt what he said would be his final NHL comeback after his latest foot surgery. He said he will start skating in early January to test out his right foot, which has undergone several surgeries in the past.

His recent foot procedure was done by Dr. Bertil Romanus, a Swedish orthopedic surgeon whom Forsberg called "the best doctor in the world."

Eriksson sizzling for Stars -- Last season, Loui Eriksson had 14 goals and 17 assists in 69 games for the Dallas Stars. In 30 games this season, he already has netted 14 goals and has 8 assists. Sounds like a career season is under way.

Mike Heike, writing in the Dallas Morning News, said Eriksson is being compared to Stars veteran Jere Lehtinen, which is very high praise based on the Lehtinen's accomplishments.

"When I came in last year, I think I tried too hard to score goals and worried too much about scoring goals. So then I concentrated on just playing smart, making good defensive plays or battling for the puck, and I started scoring goals."
-- Loui Eriksson

"He's learning how to score goals, he's learning how to go to the net, he's learning how to get to the hard areas," Stars coach Dave Tippett told Heika. "That's the positive thing is that he's learning every day. He understands the game, he puts the work in and he's getting better. That's a great sign."

"When I came in last year, I think I tried too hard to score goals and worried too much about scoring goals," Eriksson said. "So then I concentrated on just playing smart, making good defensive plays or battling for the puck, and I started scoring goals."

Thus proving the time-honored axiom from coaches that those who practice solid defense will be rewarded.

"I think what you see is just an instinct to hunt the puck," Tippett said of Eriksson. "It's an anticipation of where the play is going to go and an ability to be one step ahead of everyone else."

Double benefits for Wild -- Marian Gaborik's return to the lineup gives the Minnesota Wild a strong offensive player, but also pays another dividend, allowing Brent Burns to return to defense, his position of choice.

During Gaborik's absence, the versatile Burns has been used as a winger by coach Jacques Lemaire and hasn't really enjoyed it.

"I'm going to put him back on defense to see how things will go," Lemaire told John Shipley of the Pioneer Press. "I think he will feel a little better, maybe get a little more confidence on his game, because he's losing a little bit of confidence."

"It's where I want to play," Burns said.

And when he is there, Burns is pretty good at it. Last season, he scored 15 goals and 28 assists as a defenseman, but that "jack of all trades" status cost him when injuries were robbing the Wild of depth.

"He has a presence; he's a big guy, he skates well, he can shoot pucks, he goes at the net," Lemaire said. "He does a lot of things that you want a player to do up front.

"The way I'm looking at the team. I feel (Burns), if his mind would be good and he would play good hockey, with confidence, it would help the team more up front than on defense."

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