Flames Watch: Phaneuf must step up

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It is time for Dion Phaneuf to step up to the plate.

While there is still no guarantee the Calgary Flames will make the playoffs – I’d be shocked, quite frankly if they missed – the fact is, if they do get in, Phaneuf will be called upon to take his game to the next level.

The punishing 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman who turns 23 on April 10, has already established a single-season high with 52 points (he had 49 and 50 respectively in his first two years) and he was leading the Flames in time on ice, averaging 26:28 per game. All good stuff.

The real test, though, comes in the playoffs. That is when the men are separated from the boys. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and right winger Jarome Iginla have both established themselves as trustworthy competitors at the most critical time of year, but so far, in 13 playoff games, Phaneuf has just two goals and no assists. That is one in seven games as a rookie and one in six games last year. That is also just not good enough.

Ever since he entered the NHL, Phaneuf has been mentioned as a future Norris Trophy winner and I have no doubt whatsoever he’ll rise to that level one day. But producing in the regular season and dropping off in the playoffs is not exactly what you want to have on your resume.

The Edmonton native was fifth in NHL scoring amongst defensemen with 15 goals (fourth best in the league) and 52 points through 73 games, but all of that will be forgotten if he has another forgettable playoff.

The Western Conference bracket promises to be an absolute grind and you could make the case Phaneuf has the potential to be one of the most physically influential individuals involved.

You can bet GM Darryl Sutter and coach Mike Keenan agree – there has not been a more important time for Phaneuf to assert himself.

The column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.

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