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Flames ready for their long road trip

by Todd Kimberley /
CALGARY -- It appears the phrase "middle of the road" no longer applies to the Calgary Flames.

The Flames are one of only two NHL teams with one regulation road loss. Their winning percentage on the road, .773, is the second-best in the League behind New Jersey. They are on pace to win 26 games outside of Southern Alberta this season, which would eclipse the franchise record of 22 set in 1987-88 and '88-89, their Stanley Cup-winning season.

It's easy why the Flames are eager to get their show on the road, where they're 7-1-3 this winter.

"It's weird. Take last year, as an example, when we got off to a bad start on the road, in Vancouver (in a 6-0 season-opening loss). We got beat pretty handily, and all of a sudden it puts a bad taste in your mouth," Flames forward Craig Conroy said.

"It snowballs, and there's a negative (atmosphere) around you. That's what people say — you've got to be positive. You really do. You can't let it creep into your mind, because I think it does affect you.

"This year, vice versa. We started well, and things have really gone well on the road," added Conroy. "We're really getting the lead quick in road games. The first goal definitely makes a difference on the road, and gives us a big boost. It definitely takes a little wind out of their sails.

"That might be the biggest difference this year. Last year, we always felt like we had to fight just to get back in the game."

The Flames embarked Thursday on a pivotal six-game, 12-day trip -- their longest of the season -- that will take them to Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose and Los Angeles. All six of those opponents currently have winning records.

It wasn't so long ago that the Flames struggled mightily away from the Pengrowth Saddledome — the 2006-07 season saw them go 30-9-2 at home and 13-20-8 on the road, with six of those road victories coming in the final five weeks of the season.

"We've been keeping it simple, and our application of our systems has probably been better out on the road," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "We've been working through a few kinks here with our systemic play. We've been changing things over a bit. Coaches have asked things of us as individuals, and as a group collectively, and the reason we've done so well on the road is because we followed the game plan better."

They won't get a chance to taste some real home cooking until late December, when they settle in for a four-game homestand around Christmas, but the Flames know they've got to do a better job of being peevish hosts.

Calgary's home mark, 7-5-0, is almost as much of an eye-opener as that 7-1-3 road mark. After all, this is a team that only lost 37 of 164 regular-season home games in regulation over the past four campaigns.

"We need to play here like we do on the road, really," coach Brent Sutter said. "We need to keep the game simple and play with the emotional level that we do on the road. We know what we have to do; for whatever reason, we've gotten away from that."

Added Conroy: "We've got to get back to where teams coming in here know it's going to be really tough to get two points out of this place. We expect so much better of ourselves at home. It's time."

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