CALGARY – Jarome Iginla will take another swing at breaking Theoren Fleury’s goalscoring record, but he’s more preoccupied with the NHL playoff race and the Calgary Flames’ position in it.
Iginla is tied with Fleury for the most goals scored in Calgary Flames history at 364 and has been since Saturday when Iginla scored twice in Calgary’s 3-1 win over Phoenix.
The Flames captain had just two shots on goal against Columbus on Tuesday and didn’t convert either into the historic goal.
He’ll try for the milestone again Friday when the Nashville Predators come to the Saddledome.
“To be honest, I’m not that anxious,” Iginla said Thursday. “Sure, I’d love it to be at home, but that’s not the most important thing. It’s about getting wins and moving up (in the standings).
“It doesn’t feel as urgent as if you’re going for 50 goals and there’s one game left. It’ll be cool when it happens, but hopefully I have a lot of games left, so I don’t feel that pressure.”
Where there’s pressure is in Calgary’s precarious playoff position. The Flames may have been tied with Minnesota for the Northwest Division lead Thursday – the Wild played Carolina at night – but only five points separated Calgary from Vancouver sitting ninth and one spot out of a playoff berth.
“Every year, we’ve had reasons for the last few to be optimistic, but so far this one feels the best,” Iginla said. “I really feel good about this group.
“It’s about making the playoffs first and then giving ourselves the best chance to win the division.”
Calgary has 15 games left in the regular season, so it’s a question of when, not if, Iginla will become the franchise goalscoring leader.
“It felt cool to tie Theo,” Iginla said. “Before the year started I looked at it and I knew that it would take 41 (goals) to do it this year and was hoping I’d have the chance and thankfully the puck has gone in and I do have the chance.”
It took Fleury 791 games to get to 364 career goals in a Flames jersey. In his 11th season in Calgary, he was traded to Colorado with Chris Dingman in exchange for Rene Corbet, Wade Belak and Robyn Regehr.
Iginla needed 844 games to tie Fleury and the 30-year-old from Edmonton should be able to raise the record substantially after signing a five-year contract extension worth US$35 million last summer.
Fleury’s franchise points record of 830 is within striking distance next season for Iginla, who was at 743.
Fleury, who retired from the NHL in 2003, lives in Calgary and runs a cement company. He attended Tuesday’s game, but left it still sharing the goalscoring record with Iginla.
The first game Iginla ever played for Calgary was in the 1996 post-season, right after his Kamloops Blazers were knocked out of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
As luck would have it, the 18-year-old Iginla spent his first NHL shifts centring Fleury’s line.
“It was one of the biggest thrills that I’ve ever had in hockey,” Iginla recalled. “The Olympic gold-medal game was right up there and that was right up there.
“You go from, literally, a fan and trying to get to the NHL and suddenly was playing with Theo, who I admired so much and how good he was . . . absolutely I remember that game.”
Iginla and Fleury were teammates for almost three seasons in Calgary before Fleury was dealt to Colorado.
“When I got a chance to play with him and see how skilled and almost how easy the game was for him . . . I shouldn’t say easy because he battled his butt off, but he’d just go in and flick his wrist and go top corner,” Iginla said. “Playing with him, you definitely learned a lot from him and his competitiveness.”
Iginla said Fleury met him before Tuesday’s game to wish him luck. A Calgary newspaper reported Thursday that Fleury wouldn’t attend Friday’s game, and Iginla was fine with that.
“I thought it was nice that he came, but I totally understand that he’s got lots of things to do with his business and family and stuff,” Iginla said.
Calgary faces a bunch of teams fighting for their playoff lives, including Nashville, Colorado, Vancouver, Washington and Columbus, before the end of the regular season.
“Every game, it seems like there’s a reason why other teams are jacked up for it and we have our reasons why we are every game,” Iginla said. “We’re tied for the division, third place (in the conference) is right there and that’s what we’re gunning for.”
Flames head coach Mike Keenan ended Thursday’s practice less than 20 minutes after it started because he felt his players weren’t working hard enough.
“I feel that when we’re here it’s a privilege to be at the arena, it’s a privilege to play in the NHL, it’s a privilege to coach in the NHL,” Keenan said. “When you are asked to work for 30 minutes, I want you to work. If you’re not going to work, it’s not really productive to do anything but get off the ice.”
Notes: Owen Nolan was given a rest day and did not skate during the Flames’ short practice Thursday . . . Defenceman Cory Sarich is expected to be back in the lineup Friday, which gives Keenan eight defencemen to work with. “You cannot go deep in the playoffs and you cannot win the Stanley Cup unless you have eight defencemen,” Keenan said.