Johnson: Iginla has been far better than the stats show so far
Flames captain has been playing with a purpose and it’s just a matter of time before the goals come
The checklist is pretty much complete.
Chances? Most definitely.
Physical edge? Ditto.
Increased patience in distribution? Yup.
The always-encouraging appetite for a ‘bit of afters?’ That, too.
For someone who’s thrived primarily on numbers over the course of a career, the stats — three helpers, a minus-1 and a team-high 19 shots — actually don’t do Jarome Iginla’s game justice at the moment. The past two starts in particular, a 3-2 shootout loss at Rogers Arena in Vancouver and Saturday’s 4-3 slapdown of the precocious Oil Drop at the Scotiabank Saddledome, he’s been back to his commanding, impactful, invested best.
All that’s missing is the goal.
It’ll come. As sure as the turnin’ of the earth.
And when it does, a tepid trickle will turn into a raging torrent. That has long been Iginla’s way. After scoring 516 of ’em, it isn’t as if he’s forgotten how.
“Personally,” he’s saying as the Calgary Flames reconvened Monday after a welcome day off, “I feel like I’ve had great chances. Tangs (Alex Tanguay) and playing with Glennie (Curtis Glencross), they’ve been able to put it in and get some key goals.
“At the same time, you just keep going. As long as the chances are there, it’s OK. They (goals) go in in bunches. And hopefully that’s soon. But at the same time, as long as we win that’s what feels good.
“We’re all trying to get better, work at things. Sometimes at the start of the season, the timing’s way off, it takes a while to get going. But for me it’s felt good so far. Better every game. I’m trying to do the other things besides just worrying about scoring.
“I think Tangs has been unbelievable, moving to centre and playing against team’s top centres so we’re trying to balance between being an offensive threat while also shutting ’em down.”
When Jarome Iginla’s operating at optimum effectiveness he’s keeping his feet moving (former Flames coach Pierre Page used to groan about a younger Iginla’s tendency to “ski” when not fully engaged) and he’s a robust handful of trouble physically for the opposition — which takes in far more territory than merely going all John. L. Sullivan and shucking the mitts.
Over these past two games, he’s been using his legs to create space, to amp up his power game. And that familiar competitive brio — often fabricated to get himself going when he senses his influence in a game tapering off — has emerged naturally, out of emotion and enthusiasm, not the need to manufacture some of the same.
It goes without saying that the importance of having the face of the franchise buy into the new coach’s doctrine is of paramount importance in dredging this ship runaround off the rocks. A reinvigorated Iginla,
So far, Bob Hartley has no complaints.
“He’s been the complete player for us. That’s what I’m expecting out of everyone and when you get this from your captain . . . You look at the way we’ve played the four games. We’re getting stronger and stronger. I really liked the effort in Vancouver. I felt we even had a stronger effort against Edmonton.
“I think it starts with him. He’s the locomotive of this hockey club. He’s been on the puck. He’s been a presence. He’s made some great, great passes. Defensively, they’re being matched up against the top line and they’ve been responding well.
“So I’m very happy with Jarome.”
Jarome seems happy, too.
“It (Hartley’s system) is quite different from anything I’ve played for a long time. There are different places you have to go, different key points that he really emphasizes, that we go over every day. There’s a lot of detail, but it’s been good. The guys have a really good attitude. It’s work on the ice, off the ice. There is more skating to this system, more speed to it.
“We’re going to be in great shape. Our practices are with a purpose to get into that shape because it is a lot of skating and a lot of high tempo. It’s pretty obvious if we aren’t moving our feet.
“It’s starting to come. The first couple of days, the first couple of games, you’re still kinda of thinking ‘Where do I go?’ Because it is different. We’re trying to get the thinking out of it. Each day it feels a little more comfortable as far as becoming second-nature.”
Iginla, remember, missed the opening of the abbreviated training camp due to a groin pull so the three days of practice before the Colorado Avalanche should be of real benefit to pushing his game even higher.
“He’s in great shape,” lauds Hartley. “Right now he feels great. He’s moving. He’s such a physical presence. He’s tough to contain, he can go to the net, he’s physical. He’s a big, big part of our hockey club.”
Yes, even if the stats don’t do him justice quite yet, the checklist is pretty much complete.
All that’s missing is the goal.
And that, given the subject under discussion, should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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