Calls for Flames captain Jarome Iginla to give a little more when his team needs him most overlooks the possibility he doesn’t have enough left to give.
Entering the final two weeks of this NHL regular season, there’s concern in Calgary the Flames playoffs hopes are fading.
Having overcome yet another slow start to the season (typical of this team in recent years) to twice play their way into the eighth, and final, playoff berth in the Western Conference, the Flames have been unable to maintain their hold, both times sliding out of contention.
As of March 25th, the Flames were 11th overall in the Conference with 83 points, only three out of eight, and only four out of seventh overall, but with five teams – the LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks – between them and those two berths.
Worse, they’ve gone winless in their last five games (0-2-3), managing only six goals over that period, with three of those losses coming against teams (Edmonton, Columbus and Minnesota) with no chance of clinching a berth.
Games the Flames should’ve won.
Most troubling is their best offensive player, team captain Jarome Iginla, has been held pointless over that stretch.
That’s prompted calls from anxious Calgary fans and pundits for Iginla to “snap out of his funk”, that he needs to “step it up” now that his team needs him the most.
It’s not as though Iginla doesn’t realize this. He’s been the Flames offensive leader and “go-to” guy for the past ten years, and barring the unforeseen, should finish this season as their leading scorer for an 11th consecutive season.
He also knows this is the time of year when opposing teams are going to key on him with more intensity than usual, even if those opponents are bottom-feeders in the standings with nothing to play for this season.
Perhaps he’s nursing an injury (it’s been suggested he may have a bad back), or worn down by fatigue, or just going into one of those slumps that can affect even the very best players over the course of a season.
Putting it all upon his shoulders comes with the territory when you’ve been the long-time team captain, face of the franchise and its greatest scorer for as long as Iginla has over the years.
In the not-too-distant past, Iginla could be relied upon to hoist the Flames – a team which for years has lacked offensive depth – upon his broad shoulders and provide them the offensive juice for a late-season playoff push.
But what may be different this time around is “Iggy” is almost 35-year-old, and while he still plays very well, could be finding it a little harder now to be that “go-to” star that he was in the past.
Yes, Iginla has had some seasons where his numbers declined, spurring suggestions his physical play was taking its toll, only to rebound with strong performances worthy of an elite scorer.
And it could be that Iginla’s struggles of late may be due to an undisclosed injury, the focus placed upon him by rival clubs, late-season fatigue after battling hard throughout a long season, or a combination of these factors.
It could also be, however, that in his mid-thirties, a period when most NHL players are on the downside of their careers, time may be catching up with Iginla.
He’s certainly trying to answer the call, and prior to his recent offensive downturn was on a tear, with 14 points in eight games.
But Iginla’s at a point in his career now where he needs to have more help than he’s been getting to score those goals, but plays on a club lacking the offensive support necessary to ease his burden.
Iginla will certainly give everything he can over the remaining two weeks to get his Flames into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but it’s possible that, after all these years, his best might not be enough anymore.