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Iginla, Flames dumbfounded by talk of early slump

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY -- What's behind all the "what's-up-with-Jarome" chatter in Calgary?

Craig Conroy has his own pet theory.

"I think a lot of it has to do with fantasy pools now," chuckled Conroy, a longtime teammate of Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"Everybody's got the fantasy guys ... they might have picked Jarome first overall, so they want him to get some points," Conroy said prior to Tuesday's win over Montreal. "But yeah, it's always been that way. In a Canadian market, they want to see a star player play well early, so they know this is going to be a great year."

As barometers go, this one has revealed much of the charged climate and high expectations in Flames Nation these days.

Even with the notoriously slow-starting Flames 3-0 out of the gate, some fans and media still wondered about Iginla's tepid start to the season -- one assist on an empty-net goal, and four minutes in penalties, through his first two games of 2009-10.

Most telling of all, Calgary's superstar right-winger only spent 15:52 on the ice with linemates Olli Jokinen and David Moss Saturday in Edmonton, his lowest total in that department in nearly three seasons.

"You guys are making a big deal of this, that Jarome hasn't scored in two games. That, to me, is just ludicrous," Flames coach Brent Sutter had complained earlier Tuesday. "Goals will come. He will get his scoring opportunities."

The offense finally did come for the face of the Flames' franchise Tuesday night against the visiting Canadiens. Iginla backhanded home the power-play leavings of a Jokinen blast off the post at 15:11 of the second period, giving Calgary a 3-2 lead in a game it would win 4-3.

A minus-1 on the night, Iginla logged 16:30 of ice, took five shots at Jaroslav Halak, giving him a team-leading total of 11 after three games, blocked two Montreal shots and won six of 10 faceoffs.

"In the second and third periods, Jarome was solid. He was strong," said Sutter in his postgame dissertation. "He got engaged, involved in the game. With Jarome, he moves his feet and he makes things happen ... he's thinking the game the right way, like everybody does."

Halak also made a solid pad save Tuesday night to prevent Iginla from chalking up a second goal, on a cross-ice one-timer set up by Jokinen.

Iginla, whose production levels have very few peers across the NHL over the past several seasons, hasn't generally been known for his big numbers in October. But he appears to be growing frustrated with the early-season scrutiny.

You could swear Iginla, usually a paragon of sincerity and geniality, was actually using sarcasm following Tuesday's win in assessing the tempest-in-a-teapot that had surrounded him.

"I hope I never go two games again without scoring, but it may happen," he said without even the faintest trace of a smile. "You know what? It's ... ah ... it's fine."

The Flames will put their unbeaten record on the line with two games in two nights -- Thursday night in Edmonton against the Oilers, and Friday back at the Pengrowth Saddledome against the Dallas Stars.

Without, presumably, a microscope on Iginla.

"Jarome just works so hard every day," Conroy said. "I don't really worry about him."
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