Flames happy at break

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

They may be knocked off their lofty perch by time they wake up tomorrow, but the Calgary Flames can sleep soundly tonight knowing they own top spot in the Northwest Division.

Thanks to Tuesday's 2-1 win over Minnesota, the Flames entered a five-day rest period over the all-star break with one more point than the Wild, and a two-point advantage on the Colorado Avalanche.

A pretty big accomplishment considering they were seven points out of first 25 games into the season -- ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers by virtue of a pair of overtime losses.

"Certainly, we're in a position that we worked for," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan after Tuesday's victory. "We've had an interesting start to the season."

An abysmal month of November forced the team to rally. During a monster of a run through December and into the break, the Flames lost just four of 25 games in regulation.

"The long road trip, we just talked about getting into the playoff hunt," Craig Conroy said of the record six-game road sweep before Christmas that helped propel the team into contention."

When you get in, then maybe you start looking a little bit, 'OK, now let's try to get the division.'

"That's kind of the way we've evolved."

Whether or not the team maintains the division lead after tonight's games didn't matter much to a team proud of where it stood as of yesterday morning.

"To be in first place in a really tight division is a good step," said Keenan. "Now we've got to take a break and get ready to really give a push in the second half of the season."

To say the first 50 games have been a grind would be understating the workload. Keenan has given his pupils days off whenever possible, but himself has avoided the Saddledome only once since the season began.

Including the pre-season schedule and training camp, the Flames have played 58 games in 136 days, according to Keenan. So the Flames' break -- the league's lengthiest with seven days off between games -- comes at a great time.

"It'll be good to get refreshed," said Conroy. "Guys are banged up. They've been going hard up until this point."

It doesn't get any easier after the handful of days off. The team returns to practice Monday knowing that Wednesday's game against the San Jose Sharks drops the puck on a run of 32 games in 67 days.

The compact second half is the primary reason Curtis Joseph was signed, with Miikka Kiprusoff starting all but one game so far.

But Keenan is happy with the way his No. 1 goaltender has been performing lately after an inconsistent start.

"He's definitely at a point now that we all expect him to be. It took him a while to get through some parts of the schedule, but he's in that groove now," said Keenan. "This break will be good for him too, particularly mentally."

One of the cooler Flames heading into all-star weekend is Jarome Iginla. The Western Conference captain hasn't scored in seven games after carrying much of the scoring burden through the first half.

While he won't get a break with his weekend activities in Atlanta, Iginla might have a leg up on teammates when they return to the Saddledome.

"We're going to start our second half with fitness testing," said Keenan.

Better get that rest while they can.


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