Struggling Iginla doesn't make excuses

Nicholas J. Cotsonika

DETROIT – Game tied, early in the third period. Jarome Iginla(notes) put the puck across the goal line and into the net. This was just what the Calgary Flames needed, offensive production from one of their top players – from their No. 1 player.

Problem was, the net was off the moorings – no goal – and the Flames came unhinged afterward Thursday night, falling to the Detroit Red Wings, 4-2.

''You try not to get frustrated,'' Iginla said in the dressing room, as he tossed his pads into his equipment bag. ''But it definitely hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped.''

Iggy popped in the winning goal Saturday night, when the Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers, 5-3. But that's the only goal he has scored – and one of only two power-play goals the Flames have scored – through six games this season.

You could write that off to Iginla's reputation for slow starts and streaky scoring. You could say he's due to break out, perhaps as soon as Friday night at Columbus against the Blue Jackets. But he's long overdue now. Go back to the end of last season, when he went the last 11 games without a goal, and he has scored only once in his last 17 games.

That's quite a drought for a player who has led the NHL is goal-scoring twice, who has scored more than 30 goals each of the past nine seasons. And that's quite a concern for a team that desperately needs more offense to contend for a playoff spot.

Gently suggest to Iginla that he needs more help from his teammates, and he steers the conversation the other direction. After all, he's the captain, the charismatic face of the Flames. He's the forward making the most money, $7 million.

''No, you know, I need to get rolling,'' Iginla said. ''No, I got to look at myself.''

Iginla said that when he struggles, he plays it safe and stops creating. He chips the puck along the boards instead of driving it to the net. He flicks the puck from bad angles, hoping, instead of taking it where it needs to go. He doesn't win one-on-one battles.

''You can't just bang pucks around and touch it for a second, just keep looking to other guys to get it or do whatever,'' Iginla said. ''You look at [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg tonight. They were very good. They beat guys left and right. They're tricky guys. Our guys, they played very hard against them, but you could see that when they had a step they were taking it, and that's what we've got to do – and I've got to do.''

But that's just a polite way of saying the same thing. Iginla needs to do more himself because he isn't getting the help he needs from his teammates. Datsyuk and Zetterberg? They have each other, plus a deep, skilled supporting cast.

Iginla? Yeah, he's 33 now. He's no longer young. But he's not yet old, either. Put him with players of equal caliber, and he can still score like crazy. He had five goals in seven games as Team Canada won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Despite the Canadian flags sewn on the left shoulders of their sweaters, the Flames obviously are not Team Canada. They scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL last season, just 201, and the best reinforcements they could find in the offseason were two reclamation projects: former Flames forwards Alex Tanguay(notes) and Olli Jokinen(notes).

Tanguay has two goals and assists so far. Jokinen has only one assist. The Flames' leading scorer is Brendan Morrison(notes), a 35-year-old veteran the Vancouver Canucks declined to sign after a preseason tryout. He signed a one-year, $750,000 deal and has a goal and five assists.

Iginla plays the right wing on a line with Tanguay and center Matt Stajan(notes), who has never posted more than 16 goals or 40 assists in a season. Opponents aren't going to let Iginla beat them. ''We just pay special attention whenever he's out there,'' Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) said.

''He's our best asset offensively,'' Tanguay said. ''He's just got to relax and play. Obviously the finish that he had last year and the start, he certainly puts a lot of pressure on himself. He's an outstanding athlete and he's been playing way to well to worry about it. He's going to go through stretches where he can score five in two games, so I think he's got to relax and play his game and he'll be just fine.''

''Sure, this team needs him to score in order to win,'' Morrison said. ''But we can't have him thinking that he has to be the guy every single night. It's too much on a guy, and you can't do it in this league. It's too good nowadays. You need multiple guys contributing, especially on our team.''

Especially on the power play. Coach Brent Sutter bemoaned how every Flame seemed to have his stick cocked, wanting to be the shooter, waiting to be the shooter, instead of going to the front of the net and doing the dirty work, battling for position, deflecting pucks.

''We need production from our top players, and everyone else has to chip in,'' Sutter said. ''At the end of the day, our power play, it needs to produce for us. I mean, God, I know we keep harping on it. We work on it. But there's got to be more urgency in those situations.''

Iginla feels plenty of urgency.

''I've been here before, and sometimes you get too cute and sometimes you get too simple,'' Iginla said. ''I've got to start trying more things. … Got to get more done, for sure.''