NHL

Backlund returns to Calgary's top line

Hockey Primetime Mike Cook
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Entering this season, the Calgary Flames thought they had the right player centering their top line.

A month into the 2011-12 campaign, Mikael Backlund finally played between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay after missing the first 14 games with a broken pinky, which required a couple surgeries.

"It's been a long time. I'm real excited," Backlund said last Thursday. "It's going to feel great going out to play, almost like Christmas. Just real excited and pumped to go on this trip. I've been working hard for a lot of weeks now … practicing with the guys this week. It feels good. I feel fresh and ready to go."

The Calgary brass was pleased with how the 22-year-old Swede meshed with Iginla and Tanguay late last season — including four points in the final two games — and is hoping for big things from the trio. While the Tanguay-Backlund-Iginla line was pointless and a combined minus-8 in Friday's 4-1 loss in Chicago, they were a lot more crisp in Saturday's 4-3 win in Colorado, producing an Iginla goal assisted by Jay Bouwmeester and Tanguay.

"I thought it was a good line for us last year when they were together," coach Brent Sutter said. "We have missed (Backlund) being out of the lineup."

The Flames need a spark for an offense that is 27th in the league with just 2.19 goals per game, 25th in shots (26.8) and 21st in power-play percentage (14.3).

"The timing's going to take a little bit, but it'll be fun to see him," Tanguay said. "He's going to add another dimension to our team with his speed, with his physical ability. Right now, we're counting on every plus to help our team."

A solid two-way player, Backlund relishes the opportunity to play with a duo he calls "two great players," but knows he can't try to do too much.

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"I just have to work hard, play my game and try to help those guys produce more," he said.

In 73 games during last season's rookie campaign, Backlund scored 10 goals and had 25 points, including 10 in the final 17 games.

Tanguay and Iginla, who have a combined eight goals and 13 assists, have no worries that Backlund, the team's top pick in the 2007 draft, will do anything less.

"We see him before we go out all the time, see him in the weight room," Iginla said. "He's been chomping at the bit to go ... he has speed, he's a creative guy. I think it'll definitely be a nice boost for our lineup."

With the shuffling on the top line, Calgary had Olli Jokinen between Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque on the second line Saturday. David Moss centered Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman, while Roman Horak was between Paul Byron and Lee Stempniak, who scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period.

Northwest Division notes

Calgary lost Niklas Hagman to Anaheim on Monday. Placed on waivers Nov. 10, Hagman went unclaimed and was sent to AHL Abbotsford; however, the Ducks claimed the forward Monday on re-entry waivers. The 31-year-old had one goal and three assists in eight games for Calgary. … Byron's goal Saturday was his first as a Flame. He was recalled from the AHL on Nov. 10 when veteran Brendan Morrison was placed on injured reserve due to a slow rehabilitation of knee surgery. … RW Milan Hejduk was named the third captain in Avs history Monday. Joe Sakic (1992-2009) and Adam Foote (2009-11) are the only other captains since the team moved from Quebec. "Milan is a player who leads by example both on and off the ice," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said in a statement. "He is a product of this organization and won a Stanley Cup with this franchise. He is well respected among his teammates, and we feel he deserves this opportunity and responsibility." ... Hejduk and Paul Stastny had been donning an "A" this season with Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and Cody McLeod rotating the third "A." Stastny will keep his letter and the rotation for the third letter will also continue. … Colorado begins an eight-game homestand Friday. The Avs are 2-6 this season at the Pepsi Center, though they nearly pulled off another comeback Saturday against the Flames. After rallying from three goals down against the Islanders, Colorado scored three goals in the final 27:44, but fell short. … Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov is 0-4-1 this month with a 4.30 goals-against average. He also has allowed more than three goals four times this year, one more than last year in part-time duty with Washington. … LW Ryan Smyth has 10 goals and 17 points in his first 17 games back with the Oilers. … LW Magnus Paajarvi has just one assist in 15 games of his sophomore season and recently spent two games watching from the press box. … Edmonton G Nikolai Khabibulin has lost two straight after starting 7-0-2. He allowed eight goals in those two games, after allowing just nine goals in his first nine starts. Overall the Oilers have lost four of five, including Sunday's 6-3 defeat in the Windy City. … After home games Thursday and Saturday, Edmonton has a four-games-in-six-days road trip starting Monday in Dallas. … In a span of three days, Minnesota lost LW Guillaume Latendresse and D Marco Scandella to concussions. There is no timetable for either to return. Scandella missed 14 games with a concussion last season. … Minnesota, which has scored just 37 goals in its 17 games through Sunday, is considering splitting up Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley from the team's top line. Heatley has five goals and Koivu has one. … Beginning Thursday, the Wild plays six straight and seven of eight at the Xcel Energy Center. … Vancouver D Aaron Rome had a goal and two assists in Sunday's win over the Islanders. Known as a defensive defenseman, Rome has three goals in his past four games after netting just two goals in first 131 career outings. … G Roberto Luongo has five wins in his past seven starts as well as a 2.30 GAA in six starts this month … With LW Alex Burrows (back) out, RW Jannik Hansen moved alongside the Sedin twins on Vancouver's top line. Hansen had two goals Friday in Anaheim. … The Canucks have trailed after two periods in 10 of their 17 games, yet are 9-8-1.

Tagged: Flames, Oilers, Avalanche, Canucks, Wild, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Jarome Iginla, Tim Jackman, Paul Stastny, Aaron Rome, Mikael Backlund, Paul Byron

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