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Jokinen, Leopold make Flames awfully dangerous

by Mike G. Morreale
It's amazing what the acquisition of two players will do for the confidence of a team looking for a little momentum heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That's what Calgary Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter had in mind when he acquired forward Olli Jokinen from Phoenix and defenseman Jordan Leopold from Colorado at Wednesday's trade deadline. Only time will tell whether the deals will finally propel Calgary beyond the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs -- something it hasn't accomplished since 2003-04.

One thing's for sure -- it has certainly generated excitement.

On top of that, Jokinen will finally find out what postseason hockey is all about. The veteran of 10 seasons has played an NHL-leading 783 regular-season games without one postseason appearance. He'll no doubt become an instant fan favorite centering what has become one of the League's top offensive trios with Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri.

We'll find out just how much the new-look Flames have improved this week when they conclude a seven-game road swing with three games, including Tuesday in New Jersey, Thursday in Detroit and Saturday in Toronto. The team will also be home to the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings on March 23.

Detroit General Manager Ken Holland was impressed with what the Flames accomplished at the deadline.

"Leopold played for them when they beat us in '04 on their run to the Final, so they know him real well and they got a big, strong, powerful center down the middle," Holland said on the NHL Network. "The question is how quickly can you get chemistry? Jokinen will eat up 19 to 20 minutes, so he is taking somebody's ice time away. He's a tremendous player and they're a big, strong team. They are going to be a tremendous factor in the playoffs."

Jokinen and Leopold had memorable debuts with their new team on Thursday at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia -- Jokinen scored twice and Leopold once in a 5-1 triumph.

"When you play in non-hockey markets, you can hide," said Jokinen. "There's not as much press and hockey's not the No. 1 sport. I think it's going to be a good challenge. You want to be in places where you are under the microscope. Some players, after playing in hockey markets for 10 or 15 years, want to go somewhere else -- get a little privacy. But a player like me who's never been in a hockey market? It's really exciting to go to a place where you can't hide. It's going to be great."

Meeting of the minds -- One of the hot topics on the three-day agenda at the NHL General Manager's meetings in Naples, Fla., beginning Monday will be the issue of fighting.

The NHL Players' Association believes the time is now for some sort of minor change to better protect their athletes following the death of 21-year-old Don Sanderson as a result of a fight in a senior men's league contest in Canada in December.

"Hypothetically, should we consider some kind of rule about helmets, that you need to keep them on during fights, and do we instruct our officials that when a helmet comes off, that they should step in and stop the fight?" NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly asked reporters at the Rogers Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner & Auction at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Feb. 4. "That's one of the things we should look at."

Many players around the League have expressed their thoughts on the topic, including Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who feels fighting keeps players accountable for their actions.

"Without fighting, there would definitely be more stick work, some more cheap shots and cheap hits," Iginla said. "Fighting keeps people accountable -- they know there is the threat of a fight if things get too carried away."

The final countdown
-- Teams looking to qualify or enhance their current standing within their respective conferences will have exactly one month remaining to make that happen on Thursday -- exactly one month before the start of 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With just five weeks remaining in the regular season, 15 of the 30 clubs are positioned within four points (above or below) the respective eighth seeds in the East and the West.
There are 13 games scheduled March 12, including five conference matchups that could go a long way in finalizing those last few playoff slots.

Here's a look:

Florida at Buffalo -- It's playoffs or bust for the Florida Panthers now that General Manager Jacques Martin decided to retain pending unrestricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester instead of dealing his All-Star defenseman at Wednesday's trade deadline. The team sits sixth in the East with 76 points -- one behind the fifth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. Buffalo, three points out of eighth, is 19-12-2 on home ice this season, winning nine of its last 12 games at HSBC Arena. The Panthers and Sabres have split the season series so far with Buffalo earning a 3-2 shootout decision in the most recent meeting on Jan. 19.

Washington at Philadelphia -- Both teams are looking to pick up some ground on the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, particularly Washington, which has struggled to win five of its last 11 games. A win against fourth-seeded Philadelphia would instill some needed confidence against its Pennsylvania foe, which has earned five out of a possible six points in the previous three meetings (2-0-1). The Flyers have outscored the Caps, 8-1, in the third period of the games this season and Jeff Carter has 3 goals, 7 points and a plus-6 rating in the last three meetings. The Flyers hold a 94-61-19-4 lead in the all-time series.
"Whenever we play (the Rangers) it seems to always be good games and fighting for position in the standings and for us trying to get back on a little bit of a winning streak. With both teams vying for position in the playoffs, I think it's going to be a pretty huge game." -- Flyers captain Mike Richards
Islanders at Montreal -- If the fifth-seeded Canadiens have any desire to catch No. 4 Philadelphia, this game has to be considered a must-win. The Canadiens have won eight of their last 11 against the Isles, but dropped a 4-3 shootout in the most recent meeting on Nov. 24. The Islanders might be the League's 30th-ranked team with 51 points, but the club did become the first in three years to score six goals on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on Saturday.

Calgary at Detroit -- The matchup is intriguing just for the simple fact the Flames are a confident club right now, having gone 6-3-1 over their last 10 while the Red Wings have clawed their way back into a tie with San Jose atop the Western Conference standings with 94 points. Calgary owns a comfortable lead in the Northwest Division and is third in the West with 84 points. The game will be a good measuring stick to how improved the Flames are with the additions of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold. The Wings have won five straight against the Flames at Joe Louis Arena, including a 4-3 overtime decision on Dec. 10. The Flames last celebrated a victory in Detroit in December 2005. "It's a hard building to play in. They have one of the best home records year in and year out," Calgary captain Jarome Iginla said. The Wings are 24-4-3 at the Joe this season.

San Jose at St. Louis -- The Blues will look to even the season series between the clubs in their fourth and final regular-season meeting. The 12th-seeded Blues are in survival mode at this point with 66 points -- four behind eighth-seeded Dallas in the Western Conference. St. Louis has a 40-22-5 record in the all-time series with the Western Conference-leading Sharks, including a 19-14-2 mark on home ice. Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, whose name was mentioned in trade rumors last week, has 63 points and 32 goals in 61 career games against San Jose.

NBC Game of the Week -- The Rangers will play host to the Flyers in the second of back-to-back matchups between the clubs in the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday. The Rangers are 8-2-2 in their last 12 meetings against the Flyers but dropped a 5-2 decision at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

"Whenever we play (the Rangers) it seems to always be good games and fighting for position in the standings and for us trying to get back on a little bit of a winning streak," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "Right now, I think we're having too many ups and downs and being a little too inconsistent right now. With both teams vying for position in the playoffs, I think it's going to be a pretty huge game."

Since Nov. 11, the Flyers have not suffered more than two consecutive losses at any point while compiling a 31-13-7 record over that span. The Rangers, meanwhile, have gone 3-1-1 since the hiring of head coach John Tortorella last month and sit tied with Florida and Pittsburgh with 76 points.

Air time -- The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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