Time to hit the break

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Once the Saddledome clock counts down to zero tonight, it's vacation time.

Finally, with the NHL's condensed schedule doing its best to wear every player down to a nub, the Calgary Flames are free to have some R 'n' R until Feb. 22.

Well, everyone besides Olympians Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold.

Sure it's trendy to not feel sorry for millionaire hockey players but be certain the breather is well deserved.

Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter believes his boys need a break.

"Physically, I don't think it's an issue. Guys are machines," Sutter said yesterday. "I think mentally is where they get a bit worn down.

"We're getting through now on a lot of determination. I think you're seeing that with guys playing through injuries and just trying to get there."

Every team is in the same boat -- too many games in too few nights and too much travel.

Sutter yesterday freely admitted he and his charges have been eying the coming 11-day breather as something of a finish line.

"It's sorta been our focus all along, to get to Game 57," he said of tonight's match against the St. Louis Blues. "And to have played as well as we have, we're really looking forward to it.

"We'll get through (today) and then we'll start concentrating on the next 25. We've been able to sustain such a high pace, our guys, I'm glad they're getting the break."

Starting with their Feb. 28 return match against Vancouver, the Flames have 25 games on the schedule -- to be played in 49 days -- after the Olympic break, before what they hope will be a long playoff run.

Although there is a trio of Flames who'll be ramping up their games early by skating in Turin, plenty need some time off.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has shown all-star form of late but is still nursing a hip injury that bothered him enough to excuse himself from Finland's squad. Darren McCarty is limping thanks to a couple of foot injuries caused by blocking shots.

And then there's the usual contusions and aches all players, especially those with a rambunctious style such as Rhett Warrener, Marcus Nilson, Stephane Yelle and Tony Amonte, are dealing with.

"It's about reloading and recharging," Sutter said.

For what's certain to be a fantastic race to the playoffs.

Heading into tonight's games, the Flames are two points ahead of Vancouver atop the Northwest Division standings, with a game in hand. Pushing hard are both Edmonton and Colorado, while Minnesota is on the cusp of rejoining the playoff crew.

A win tonight ensures the Flames remain first in the division, regardless of what the other squads do.

"You look where this team is at and pro-rate it out, you'd be quite surprised with how well this team is doing, considering all the problems we have," Sutter said, alluding to the fact the Flames are on a 105-point pace. "Continue the pace. Considering everything this team has been faced with ... I give our team a lot of credit."

But once the break is over, there won't be much time to relax.

"It's gonna be a real attrition thing, again, as it's been for the last several weeks," Sutter said. "You're gonna need a lot of depth.

"You're gonna need a lot of live ammo."


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