Iginla leads Calgary to December success

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008

By Lucas Aykroyd

If Jarome Iginla maintains his current pace, he’ll crack the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career this season. Better still, the Calgary captain is in contention for his second Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer, battling the likes of Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. At this point, Iginla is also within striking distance of Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk for the NHL goal-scoring lead. (Along with Rick Nash, those two shared the 2004 Rocket Richard Trophy.)

But as the New Year begins, the 30-year-old power forward is more concerned about where his club ranks in the Western Conference playoff race. Thanks to an excellent December, the Flames are still in the hunt. Calgary won all six games it played on a road trip between December 9 and 18, equaling an NHL record previously set by the 1971-72 Boston Bruins, the 1982-83 Philadelphia Flyers, and the 2001-01 Los Angeles Kings. Before a 5-3 loss to Vancouver at GM Place on December 27, the Flames had secured at least one point in every game they played that month.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be better,” said Daymond Langkow, Iginla’s center, afterwards. “Three goals should be enough to win.”

That comment reflects Calgary’s defense-first mindset. As a line, Iginla, Huselius, and Langkow supply by far the majority of the club’s offense. Among forwards, only Alex Tanguay has also chipped in consistently this year.

And again, Iginla stands out with his consistency and willingness to contribute in all areas. He achieved a “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight) versus Columbus on December 1, and he hit the 700-point mark that night. Just two nights earlier, the big right winger had become Calgary’s all-time franchise game leader when he played in his 804th career game, passing Al MacInnis.

New head coach Mike Keenan is notorious for his hard-driving approach, and the 58-year-old, who led the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, hasn’t been shy about criticizing goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for sub-par performances, for instance. But Iginla seems to be thriving under “Iron Mike.”

“We heard a lot of different stories about how intense and in-your-face he was, so we were ready for that,” Iginla said. “But the truth is he’s very respectful toward us, even when we get some criticism. He’s a smart guy who just wants to make guys better.”

It’s hard to imagine Iginla getting much better than what he’s shown this year. The challenge in the second half will be for other Calgary forwards, from grizzled veteran Owen Nolan to rookie Dustin Boyd, to elevate their games in emulation of the captain.

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