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'TIS THE SEASON

Christmas can be distracting, but Flames focused on putting some more points in their stockings on upcoming two-game road swing

by GEORGE JOHNSON @NHLFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

As if anticipating the bumper-to-bumper traffic sure to be congesting the parking lot in front of the home team net Monday at American Airlines Arena in Big D, Dillon Dube was preparing to take his very life in his hands.

"Probably heading off to Market Mall this afternoon,'' confessed the Flames forward on Friday, with a terrified, exaggerated roll of the eyes. "I still have a couple of things to get.

"I mean, I went to Chinook a few days ago. But I couldn't find a spot. Drove around and around. Gave up.

"I'm usually a 24th shopper. Panic. Pure panic. Tell mom you got her present weeks before and then wait until the 24th. That kind of thing.

"That's the way it's done."

When informed of the Dube holiday strategy, old pro Derek Ryan gave a soft 'Kids …' shake of the head.

"He'll learn. Wisdom comes with age, right?," Ryan chided his linemate.

"I've been finished (shopping) for a long time. I'm an early guy. Usually. There have, I must admit, been years when I've procrastinated but normally I like to get it done sooner than later.

"When we're on the road, and we were on the road a lot in November, you're able to go shopping, do it online. At home, I want to be with the kids, with the family, and not have to worry about rushing around trying to buy presents."

This most wonderful time of the year is also always a delicate time for NHL players, as they focus on the business still at hand instead of letting their minds fast forward to tinsel and eggnog, kids engulfed in wrapping paper, and family traditions.

With the back-to-backs in Dallas and Minnesota on Sunday-Monday, followed by three days of Christmas down time, and then a sure to be hugely hyped clash up north against the Edmonton Oilers, the next week is decidedly important for the Flames.

"There's a lot going on at home,'' reckoned interim coach Geoff Ward. "I think sometimes it's easier to be a road team around this time of year. If you're the home team you've got relatives coming, you're running around doing things to get ready for Christmas, buying gifts, getting trees … whatever it happens to be.

"So I think it's easier to lose a little bit of focus.

"Going on the road before Christmas, you're by yourself with your team. You can hunker down and stay focused on what's important at this time, the next couple of hockey games."

 

 

Ryan buys in to that theory, to a degree.

"I mean, you can run with that cliche a little bit: It's nice to be away from distractions, all that kinda stuff,'' he said. "I'm going to Spokane for Christmas so it's all the same to me but for guys here who have people visiting maybe it is a bit more distracting.

"No doubt these games are important in trying to start feeling better about ourselves."

It's been either feast or famine for the Flames of late, a six-game losing skid followed by a seven-game winning streak, dovetailing into the current 0-2-1 run.

"I think this is ideal for us, this trip,'' says Dube. "It's not like we're going away for two weeks, panicking to get wins before Christmas. We're gone for three days.

"Get the wins, then come home and enjoy the holidays.

At home, especially at this time of year, other things can take your attention. Family's the most important thing. You've got to make sure everything's good there.

"When you're on the road, it's all business," said Dube.

The Flames have suffered through poor second periods and managed to pot just three goals during these last three starts.

"A friend of mine once told me,'' said Ward, "y'know, offence is like a cat. It comes and goes. Sometimes you lose it for awhile but it comes back. Defence is like your dog. He's always loyal, he's always by your side, he's always backing you up.'

"So we just feel like the more we can reinforce our defensive game, the better for us."

This is just the time to do precisely that.

"It's a good little trip,'' agreed skipper Mark Giordano. "Of course we can get momentum. I think we've had a good stretch here. I know the last three we've lost but we're playing well. If we stick with it, we're going to do well, we're going to move up in the standings.

"The Christmas break is what it is. How many times do we have three-day breaks during the season and we don't say anything about it.

"But it's Christmastime."

Yes, it is. Only five sleeps, and two big tests, away.

"We feel like it's not going to be an issue for us,'' emphasized Ward. "But, yeah, I think the tendency is to think it can draw your team away from the job at hand a little bit.

"So we think going on the road will be good for us these last two."

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