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The Calgary Flames have been much better than expected without captain and leading scorer Jarome Iginla. Getting one of the league's top players back should make them even more formidable.
Iginla could return to the Calgary lineup for the first time in nearly a month Friday as the Flames try to win their seventh straight at home in a matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Iginla was on pace for a career-best 111 points, with 23 goals and 30 assists, before suffering a sprained knee Jan. 4 against Florida.
The Flames (27-17-6), though, hardly missed their best player, going 7-2-2 in his absence and remaining near the top of the tight Northwest Division.
Iginla has been skating on his own, but on Monday he returned to practice with his teammates for the first time since the injury. He said his knee brace is no longer a problem and he expects to play either Friday or against Vancouver on Saturday.
"I'm planning on it," he told the Calgary Sun on Wednesday. "I talked with the coaches last time and they said we'll get a couple more practices in. We had one yesterday and another today. Every day it's been getting better and, if it keeps going like this, I'm excited to be back Friday."
When Iginla does return, he will see a very familiar face as a new teammate.
Craig Conroy, acquired Monday from Los Angeles, paid immediate dividends with two goals Tuesday in a 4-1 victory over the Kings.
"It surpassed all expectations," said Conroy, an instrumental part of Calgary's run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. "It gave me goose bumps being out there on the ice. It was a lot of emotion for me."
Conroy, who spent parts of four seasons in Calgary before signing with the Kings in 2004, played on a line with Alex Tanguay and Tony Amonte.
Although that unit combined for two goals and three assists, Flames coach Jim Playfair could be tempted to pair Iginla with Conroy since the two worked so well together during Conroy's first stint in Calgary.
Iginla set career highs with 52 goals, 44 assists and 96 points in 2001-02 with Conroy as his center. Conroy also had the best season of his 12-year career in 2001-02 with 27 goals, 48 assists and 75 points.
Forwards Kristian Huselius, Daymond Langkow and Tanguay have led the way offensively for the Flames without Iginla.
Huselius has six goals and eight assists during a 10-game point streak. Langkow has five goals and eight assists in his last 12 contests while Tanguay has three goals and four assists in his past five games.
Calgary leads the NHL with 20 home victories and has outscored opponents 22-10 during a six-game win streak at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has dominated the Blue Jackets, going 7-2-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average in 11 career games.
Columbus (21-26-5) failed in a bid to match a season high with its fifth straight win Wednesday, falling 5-2 at Edmonton.
"We came out flat but that's no excuse," left wing Rick Nash said. "They were clearly the better team tonight. They outshot us and outchanced us. We need to be better."
With regular starter Pascal Leclaire still sidelined following knee surgery and backup Fredrik Norrena nursing a groin injury, Ty Conklin made 32 saves in his second straight start.
The Flames had lost three straight to the Blue Jackets - two in shootouts - before a 2-1 home victory on Dec. 1.