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Calgary Flames avoid usual slow start with outburst of scoring

CALGARY - Previously known for their defensive prowess, the Calgary Flames are winning more by scoring goals than keeping the puck out of their own net.

Calgary is coming off its best October since the lockout with a 6-3-3 record, which has the Flames chasing Minnesota for the Northwest Division lead.

The Flames scored 17 more goals than they did last October playing just two more games in that month this year.

Captain Jarome Iginla, second in the NHL's scoring race Wednesday with eight goals and 11 assists, and veteran centre Daymond Langkow, who was in the top 10 with eight goals and nine assists, have something to do with that.

"As a group, I think we have the confidence," Langkow said Wednesday. "Even if we're been down a goal, knowing we've got enough firepower, someone is going to chip one in."

Calgary hosts conference-leader Detroit on Thursday. Only the Red Wings, with 45 goals, have scored more goals in the conference than Calgary at 42.

The Flames were continually questioned before the season began about their soft Octobers - four wins last year and three wins the previous season - and a 1-7 pre-season record this September seemed a harbinger of another slow start.

Calgary opened the regular season with its characteristic one-step-up-and-one-step-back, but since blowing a four-goal lead and losing in a shootout to the Avalanche in Denver on Oct. 16, the Flames seemed to turn a corner.

They came from three goals down against Minnesota last week to hand the Wild their first regulation-time loss of the season.

"I think that we've learned a lot and continue to learn a lot," head coach Mike Keenan said. "We had a couple of setbacks in games that we felt we could have been successful in.

"We learned to come from behind in the game against Minnesota. I think we've put up some decent results."

The issue for the Flames has been their defence, which may seem strange for a club not that far removed from being the stingiest club in the NHL the season after the lockout.

But 37 goals against puts Calgary in the bottom fifth of the league.

"We know we can score goals, so for us right now, we want to keep getting better defensively every game," Langkow said. "We lack confidence in the defensive side of it. I think that cost us a few games earlier on."

The Flames have taken some time to adjust to off-season changes in personnel on the back end with defencemen Cory Sarich, Adrian Aucoin and Anders Eriksson the newcomers.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, signed to a US$35-million, seven-year contract this week, was inconsistent to start the season, but the former Vezina Trophy winner seems to have recovered his form, if Tuesday's 39-save performance in a 5-1 win over Nashville is any indication.

Meanwhile, Iginla is on pace for a career season.

"He's a real competitor and he wants to win as bad as anybody," Langkow said. "When he gets hot, he can really turn it up."

While the Flames were one of the worst teams on the road last season, it's too soon to say if they've turned that around as they've spent most of the first month of the season at home.

Calgary concludes a run of seven games at Pengrowth Saddledome on Thursday before heading out on the road to face Minnesota on Saturday and Colorado on Monday.

The Flames lost 4-2 to Detroit in their third game of the season.

"We weren't as good as we are now when we played them and, of course, they're better as well," Keenan said. "They are one of the top two teams in the league.

"It's a good opportunity for us to move forward and be better and I'm glad we're playing them."


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