A clockwork red: how else to describe Jarome Iginla?
For 10 consecutive NHL seasons, he has scored 30 goals or more. For the past four seasons, he has played a full 82 regular-season games. What the Calgary Flames need, he does his best to deliver.
But Saturday, when the Flames open their 2011-12 season against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, the team captain will have to produce without having played in a single preseason game (he was sidelined by a sore back) and without a bona fide No. 1 centre (David Moss has drawn in for now).
Fortunately for Iginla, he does have a reliable wingman in Alex Tanguay, who could very well be the most influential player in Calgary’s lineup. Last season, Tanguay led the Flames in assists (47). Many of those set up Iginla’s 43 goals; others fed the power play, which contributed to the team’s post-Christmas rise and playoff pursuit.
It was a good year for Tanguay, who had bottomed out in his previous stops with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. This season, the Flames need even more from the man who must keep Iginla delivering like clockwork. Although they didn’t have any preseason work together, the two are confident they can pick up where they left off in April.
“I really enjoyed playing with him,” Iginla said of Tanguay. “Part of his game is he’s got a very good shot. He’s capable of 30 goals. He’s probably not going to get 300 shots [for the season]but I think he will have a better year than last year.”
Iginla and Tanguay flourished last season with revolving centres on their line. Tanguay was the deft server; Iginla the closer. Tanguay, who skipped on free agency to re-sign with Calgary, said he and Iginla have an unspoken understanding of what works for them and how the other guy operates.
“Look at the Sedins, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin when they play together, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They all don’t have the same game but they think it the same,” Tanguay insisted. “I don’t always have to look at [Iginla when passing the puck] I can anticipate his motion and speed and I can pinpoint to a very close area where he’ll be. It comes with experience and practice.
“It’s a skill that’s developed.”
Tanguay’s shooting skills could be crucial in helping Iginla score, especially if opposing teams choose to negate the Flames captain by taking away his passer. Asked about that, Tanguay acknowledged he planned to shoot more this season to create doubt among defenders, but insisted Iginla will be successful no matter how teams play him.
“He’s a superior athlete and he has the ability to create open ice. For me, I’ve got to have a little more of a shoot-first mentality and I have to use my feet. Sidney Crosby, he can have two, three guys on him but the way he moves, and with his skills, he always finds a way to create offence,” Tanguay said.
The Flames believe they have the offensive depth to score plenty, pointing to forwards Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque, Niklas Hagman and Lee Stempniak. Defensively, the departure of Robyn Regehr (traded to the Buffalo Sabres) has created a substantial hole, one that has many NHL observers expecting Calgary to miss the playoffs again for a third year in a row.
Tanguay, always the set-up man, doesn’t see it that way.
“Predictions are made to be predictions. The only people who decide are the players on the ice. I like our team. We lost Robyn Regehr and he played a lot of big minutes but we feel we have a group that moves the puck a little more,” he said.
After facing the Penguins, the Flames have a three-game road trip that takes them to St. Louis, Montreal and Toronto.