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Greg Wyshynski

HNIC Preview: Elliott vs. Habs; can Iginla line finally ignite Flames?

Greg Wyshynski
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On Friday, Calgary Flames Coach Brent Sutter had a chat with this team, about an underwhelming start that's produced a 1-2 record and three goals in three games.

Is it too early for one of Sutter's trademark riot acts to be read? He told the Calgary Herald better sooner than later:

"There might be the perception, 'Oh, he's such a hard ass'. It's not. This has nothing to do with that. This is directly related to issues that we have to get corrected or it's going to become a long year."

The Flames host the Edmonton Oilers tonight (10 p.m. ET) in a Battle of Alberta game that can either be a turning point or another harbinger of doom.

Battling through injuries and inconsistent starts, it's the kind of game in which the Flames would naturally look for their top line of Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay to ignite them.

A line that hasn't produced a point this season. Which is why Sutter's rant was as much for the grunts as it was for the stars.

(Ed Note: Canadian readers can watch these games live via Hockey Night in Canada Presented by Y! Sports Canada tonight)

The Flames' top line ("JIT" Line? "AJO" Line? Should it even have a nickname if it's probably one bad game away from a breakup?) isn't just scoreless; it's a minus-4 and has taken 29 shots with no results. The Flames have had 13 power-play chances and produced one goal; that's on this line's hands as well.

According to the Calgary captain, to the Herald:

"As far as goals, we need to get grittier,'' Iginla maintained Friday. "Myself definitely included. We're standing around, thinking, hoping. We've got to play harder more consistently. That's the type of team we're going to be. That's when we're good.

"It's not a system thing or anything like that. It's just getting grittier and doing it shift-in, shift-out, making that our style. ... I've just gotta back to focusing on getting to the net, and not thinking, just finishing checks and doing other things, not dwelling on goals because I'm probably thinking more about outcome as opposed to the process.''

The Oilers, meanwhile, looked incredible in shutting out the Flames on opening night; looked solid in beating the Florida Panthers, also at home; and then lost their 14th consecutive game in Minnesota, in a lackluster effort.

Coach Tom Renney is prepared for a motivated Calgary team, according to the Edmonton Journal:

"I think the mantra around the league for this season is 'Let's show these young (Oilers) guys.' I'm sure it'll be WWF (today). When a team's not going well and you're the next opponent, you want the game before to be 3-2 ... just lose 3-2 (not 3-0). But we've got nothing to lose. They've got all the pressure," said Renney. "That said, there's the element of an experienced team that's tough and could be in our faces that adds some pressure, but our guys have to go through it."

WWF? In Alberta? What's the over/under on Hart family members tonight?

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Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators are playing a huge divisional game at the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET), with even bigger implications for their goaltending.

Pascal Leclaire is injured. Again. A groin tweak that will keep him in the press box for at least a week. Which means it's Brian Elliott's time again, with a chance to enter the conversation for the No. 1 goaltending gig.

Elliott, to the Ottawa Citizen:

"It's kind of how it works in every league," Elliott said Friday. "You see a lot of injuries and guys getting chances. Sometimes you take advantage of them and thrive, and sometimes you don't.

"There's still pressure and you really can't think of how you got there, just what you're going to do when you've got there. Every time you get in there, it's exciting, a chance to prove yourself and a chance to help the guys win."

The twist here is that Leclaire, for all his detractors since he arrived in Ottawa, started strong this season. Coach Cory Clouston called him "our best player overall in our first three games." So if Elliott's going to play his way into that starting job, it'll need to start with a bold statement against the Habs.

Montreal topped the Sabres in Buffalo, 2-1, on Friday night, and the focus is now on protecting their house and figuring out the Sens. According to the AP, the Senators outscored Montreal 9-3 while winning all three meetings at the Bell Centre last season, and have won seven of eight against the Canadiens overall.

Finally, check out an interesting piece by Arpon Basu on Jacques Martin's history with Jason Spezza and how it could apply to Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban during his growing pains with the Habs.

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