Confident Iginla aiming for Sid the Kid, scoring title

1/5/2007 - NHL Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames + more

Sid the Kid might have 10 years, nine points and three games in hand on his side of the ledger, but Jarome Iginla's backers are resolutely contesting every inch of ice. And will continue to do so right until the bitter end.

"Catchable?" questioned Calgary Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr, with a what-turnip truck-did-this-yokel-fall-off expression on his face. "Of course. No one's untouchable."

Not even the most audacious prodigy since Mozart, it would seem.

"There's still a half season left," reminded Iginla. "Definitely, I think I can take a run at some things."

The Art Ross Trophy. The Maurice Richard Trophy. The works.

Captain Calgary gave Southern Alberta a December to remember -- 14 starts, 10 goals, 26 points, 51 shots, three four-point nights, a plus-9 and NHL Player of the Month laurels.

There is a star-studded list in pursuit of Sidney Crosby, a wild chase reminiscent of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" starring Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Lecavalier, Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley and many other A-list names.

But don't for a moment consider Iginla merely an outside threat in that group.

He might not be the most electrifying forward in the league, or the smoothest, but as far as being the most complete, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone to match him.

After an off season (by his high standards), he's on a 115-point clip. And with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff a bit off the mark (by his high standards) in the first half, Iginla is the primary reason the Flames are right in the thick of a claustrophobic Northwest Division.

"What's benefited everyone is that, this season, we have more offensive punch," Iginla said. "I mean, you add players like [Alex] Tanguay, and then [Kristian] Huselius for an entire year and things get more spread out. [Matthew Lombardi] is having a great start. So is [Daymond Langkow].

"We're scoring more goals through the lineup, and that makes it easier on everybody."

More than mere stats, though, the sheer presence of the man through the last month (the past three, actually) reveals his unique talent. Iginla is playing big, north-south hockey with the edge that characterizes him at his most dominating. When he's in this kind of form, he's not so much a star turn as an authentic force of nature. The perfect storm.

New Year's Eve, with those dastardly Edmonton Oilers in town, is a good example. The captain fired a wrecking ball past Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson from 20 feet out to get things started, then fleeced the puck off Rollie the Goalie behind the net to set up Langkow for a second.

The Flames went on to win 4-2. Iginla? Three points.

"What sets him apart from everyone else, in my opinion, is the number of ways he can beat you," Regehr said. "Skating. Great shot, obviously. Making plays. But his physical presence opens up space for his linemates. A lot of the guys we're talking about are finesse players, but Jarome puts power into the package."

"He's playing the way he did when I watched him in the [2004] playoffs," said Tanguay, his off-and-on linemate. "And that was one of the most dominating individual playoff performances in history. He's the best power forward in the game today."

Always the most modest of the elite and among the most selfless of individuals, Iginla nevertheless harbors an appetite for achievement. All the greats do. Those Art Ross and Richard trophies captured in 2002, and the tie for the goal-scoring lead with Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash two years later, gave him a taste of it.

"I want to be the top goal scorer, the top point-getter. I want to be considered one of the best players in the league. I want the team to look for me when we need a goal. That's not being greedy, but that is my job."
-- Jarome Iginla

The opportunity is presenting itself again and Iginla fully savors the hunt.

"It's fun. I check the highlights when I get home. I want to see if I've gained any ground or lost any. I want to be the top goal scorer, the top point-getter," Iginla said. "I want to be considered one of the best players in the league. I want the team to look for me when we need a goal. That's not being greedy, but that is my job. We all have roles, and that's mine. I accept that.

"When it's 1-1 and we don't get that second goal, I feel responsible. We have a lot of those guys on this team, and I'm one of them."

So often, he is responsible. Still, arguably the most impressive thing about the blistering start is that Iginla's assists total (30) outstrips the goals (22). He is a better all-around player than ever before, reaching the peak of his powers.

"The best scorers are always unpredictable," Iginla said. "When Mario Lemieux was on a 2-on-1, did you know whether he'd pass or shoot? I sure didn't. I'm known as a shooter, but you don't want to be known as one-dimensional. I'm always trying to improve the other parts of my game."

Right now, his confidence couldn't be higher.

"This game is funny. When you're in a groove, it seems so easy. On the ice, you wait that extra second to make the right pass or find yourself in the best possible position to shoot. When you're not, when you struggle, I can't think of anything harder. You just try and plow your way out of it.

"I saw Crosby on a 3-on-2 this year make a no-look, behind-the-back pass for a goal. And I'm thinking 'Whoa!' It's not even so much that he actually made that play, it's that he'd attempt it in the first place. That's being confident."

The one constant in Iginla's season, besides his impact, has been Langkow. They've been an item since Day 1. Not surprisingly, Langkow is enjoying a career season, and Iginla is quick to credit the center for a large part of his own success.

Both Tanguay, a sublime passer, and Huselius, who carries the puck more and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts as a Flame, have been deployed on the left side of the top line. No offense to either man (they're both excellent complements in different ways), but you get the feeling Flames coach Jim Playfair could throw Long John Silver over the boards with Iginla and he'd still find a way to generate points.

"[Iginla's] on a mission every game now," Huselius said. A mission that is far from accomplished.

For Jarome Iginla, as Calgarians remember from 2002 and 2004, nothing can be considered out of reach.

Not even Sid the Kid.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.