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Calgary Flames centre Olli Jokinen celebrates after winning goal during overtime shootout NHL action in Edmonton, Alberta, on Thursday, October 8, 2009. Calgary defeated Edmonton 4-3 after a overtime shootout. (Jimmy Jeong)
Calgary Flames centre Olli Jokinen celebrates after winning goal during overtime shootout NHL action in Edmonton, Alberta, on Thursday, October 8, 2009. Calgary defeated Edmonton 4-3 after a overtime shootout. (Jimmy Jeong)

Eric Duhatschek

Jokinen still trying to find way Add to ...

Except for their first fortnight together - when Olli Jokinen scored 10 points in his initial six Calgary Flames' games - there has been a square-peg round-hole quality to his partnership with Jarome Iginla. For whatever reason, they don't fit somehow.

Their respective styles and strengths were too much alike to develop the sort of easy intuitive chemistry that makes good line combinations work in today's NHL.

Example: The San Jose Sharks figured the newly acquired Dany Heatley would be a perfect match for centre Joe Thornton because one is a pure sniper and the other a natural playmaker. Presto - instant success in the Silicon Valley. But Iginla and Jokinen were like sand and gasoline, never meshing properly.

Playing together, the two most talented scorers on the Flames became less than the sum of their individual parts. Iginla, a former Rocket Richard trophy winner as the NHL's goal-scoring champion, had a modest total of three heading into last night's date with the Colorado Avalanche.

Jokinen, meanwhile, was stuck at one goal through the first 10 games.

Dating back into last season, Jokinen has scored just once in his last 23 regular-season games - not enough for a player that averaged 37 goals in each of his final three years with the Florida Panthers and was acquired by Calgary at last year's trade deadline to provide goals.

Of course, the difference between Jokinen then and Jokinen now is evident in his shots-on-goal total. In those three years in Florida, Jokinen took 351, 351 and 341 shots respectively. Last year, split between Phoenix and Calgary, his shots plunged by more than 100 (to 236) and this year, it's even worse. Through 10 games, he had only 17 shots in total, or about what Alex Ovechkin manages every two games.

Not enough.

"Early on, when he was playing with Jarome, Olli felt he had to pass more instead of taking it upon himself to shoot," said assistant coach Rob Cookson, who was on staff last year when Jokinen arrived in the deal with the Coyotes. "That's a natural tendency when you play with a finisher like Jarome. That's probably part of it this year.

"The last few games, he's gone back to that mentality - of shooting the puck."

The Flames were on an extended eastern road trip when they picked up Jokinen last year so he didn't get a chance to practice, or learn the system, until the team returned home. During that first blush of success, Jokinen was just playing, not thinking. Maybe the solution for Jokinen is that simple - he needs to trust his instincts again.

When successful, Jokinen shot pucks whenever he was within range of the net and then used his size and strength (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) to get in tight for a possible rebound.

"You can't score without shooting pucks," Jokinen said. "If you look up the top five shooters in the league - who takes the most shots - usually they're at the top of the scoring charts, too. As a player, you always want to aim for a couple of shots a period. Once you start doing that, the goals will come."

Calgary is off to a respectable 7-2-1 start, largely because of the team's scoring balance. Eventually, when production from the third and fourth liners trails off, as it inevitably will, they're going to need more offence from Jokinen.

At the moment, they're getting by with team play and a light schedule which sees them play only five times in 20 days, providing ample time to adjust to the philosophies of first-year coach Brent Sutter.

Many are thriving in the new regime: Rene Bourque is among the league leaders with 14 points; Eric Nystrom is approaching his career high (five) in goals with four already in the first month.

Just not Jokinen. For him, according to Cookson, one or two pucks need to go in so that his flagging confidence can return.

"We really have three, or even, four No.1 centremen," Cookson said.

"If you look in the past on the teams he played on, he was clearly the No.1 centreman, so his whole thought process was, 'I've gotta shoot, that's how I'm going to score goals. That's how I make a difference with the team.'

"In this organization, he's also counted on to score goals so hopefully his mindset hasn't changed purely to a two-way role. We want him to be a two-way player, but we want him to score goals, too."

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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