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Flames captain Jarome Iginla keeps rolling despite team's struggles

CALGARY - Lost in the Calgary Flames' recent struggles is the fact that Jarome Iginla is having another banner season in the NHL.

The Flames captain is doing what he can to right a listing ship not just by scoring goals and setting them up, but by playing with a consistency the rest of the team lacks.

"He's pretty much the one constant thing that's always been good in Calgary and he's doing that again and right now, he's playing as good as I've ever seen him," winger Craig Conroy said.

Iginla has been among the leaders in the NHL scoring race since the season opened.

His 14 goals and 22 assists in 28 games as of Wednesday put him sixth in the NHL and on pace for one of his best campaigns following a 94-point season in 2006-07.

The 30-year-old from Edmonton can't take much joy in it, however, as the Flames were mired in 13th place in the Western Conference at 11-13-4.

"If you're sitting there after a game and you have a goal and an assist, and you don't win, it doesn't feel . . . the huge part is missing and that's winning," he explained Wednesday. "The best feeling you can have as a forward is when you're team is winning and you're contributing. That's the combination you are shooting for.

"If you lost by one goal, you always think of the chance you should have had, and how you could have done a little bit more, especially at this stage. I've been in the league for 10 or so years. It's about winning and even more so as you get older."

His situation isn't unlike that of Mats Sundin in Toronto as the Leafs captain's play has been one of the few bright spots in that club's fortunes this season.

It behooves Iginla as captain of the Flames to try and level out the highs and lows of his club and set an example both on and off the ice.

"As far as preparation, whether you win or lose the game before, whether it's going bad or not, you prepare yourself to get ready the best you can and that's how you help the team," Iginla said. "The preparation doesn't change."

A goal, a dynamic shift, a dangerous scoring chance, muscling an opposing player off the puck or even the odd fight are what Iginla's employed to try and stoke the Flames.

A snapshot of that was Saturday's loss to Columbus when the Flames fell behind 2-0 and Iginla traded punches with the Blue Jackets' Ole-Kristian Tollefsen early in the second period.

Calgary doesn't want their captain fighting - he broke his hand and was out for five games after throwing a punch at the Stars' Brendan Morrow in 2001 - but Iginla has been known to do so when challenged.

It certainly gets the attention of his teammates. While Iginla served his fighting major Saturday, the Flames peppered Columbus goalie Fredrik Norrena with seven shots and scored on one them.

Iginla returned to the ice with a head of steam and tied the game late in the period, but the Flames ended up losing 4-3 in overtime.

"He was like a man possessed out there," Conroy said. "He was willing the team to win and we just couldn't do it for him."

Iginla has been asked in the past if getting hit or challenged into a fight elevates his game because he gets angry. He's denied it, but Conroy think it's true.

"It takes a lot to get him riled up," Conroy said. "I feel like when he gets hit . . . he's even better than he normally is. He's more into the game and more dominant than ever."

Iginla will only concede that a game in which a player gets physical with him can trigger him into a different state of mind.

"Sometimes you get into it more. You stop thinking," he explained. "When I feel my best, it's when I'm trying to outcompete that guy and he's pushing and I'm pushing and I'm not really thinking about the end result, so I think that comes through.

"When I get into a fight or, into it, you're just in the moment and I think that helps. I'm always trying to be and there's days when I am without fighting."

The Flames have been a carnival ride for Iginla since he joined the team for two playoff games in 1996 after his final season with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers.

He didn't get into another post-season game until 2003 because Calgary missed the post-season for seven years.

Then there was the run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, when Calgary was a victory away from their first NHL championship since 1989. That was then followed by first-round eliminations in 2006 and 2007.

During that span, Iginla has won the NHL's scoring title and MVP and an Olympic gold medal to boot.

He demonstrated his faith in the direction the franchise was going by signing a five-year contract extension worth US$35 million last summer. He could accomplish the rare feat of spending his entire NHL career in one jersey.

Calgary ended a four-game losing streak Tuesday by beating St. Louis, but these are tense times for the Flames as they embark on a six-game road trip after hosting Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

Iginla sat out Wedesnday's practice with what he said was 'a little tweak.' Ever the optimist, he feels the Flames are not far from turning their season around.

"He doesn't get frustrated," Conroy said. "He's probably the most positive person I've ever seen.

"If he sees other guys get frustrated, he's coming to them saying 'hey, we need a smile, we need to be more positive.' That's what he believes. Maybe he's frustrated when he goes home, but we wouldn't know it here."



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