'Tis the season for ... fisticuffs?
Even with one of the NHL's most frequent fighters, rugged winger Brandon Prust, out of the lineup, the Calgary Flames have made it clear they won't shy away from a skirmish.
Opponents beware, a questionable hit or a bop from behind will draw a crowd faster than a Boxing Day blowout sale.
"Guys are just sticking up for each other," shrugged Flames speedster Rene Bourque, who was looking no worse for wear after his second scrap as a member of the Flames earlier this week.
"Everybody respects each other in this locker-room, and we stand up for each other."
Sounds simple enough, but, as Flames tough guy Andre Roy points out, it's not always a sure thing. On Saturday night, Ottawa Senators sniper Daniel Alfredsson was pasted into the boards by Stars veteran Jere Lehtinen. There was some pushing and shoving as Alfredsson was helped off the ice, but nobody dropped the gloves.
Roy, a former Senator, could hardly believe his eyes.
"You look at Alfredsson -- he gets smoked against Dallas -- and nobody came in, did anything. He's their captain, their elite player," Roy said. "And I've been on teams like that.
"I think here, guys always stick up for each other and it brings the guys closer, for sure, because you can always rely on your teammates coming in if something happens."
With Prust, who has fought 11 times in 21 games, out of action, Roy has been serving as the Flames' undisputed chief of police. A frequent scratch in the early going, Roy has suited up for eight straight outings.
He had his second tussle of the season Tuesday in St. Louis, dropping the mitts with Blues pugilist Cam Janssen, who broke Prust's jaw with an open-ice hit three weeks ago.
And Roy was back at it the next night in Minnesota, trading jabs with Derek Boogaard after the Wild behemoth sent Bourque crashing to the ice.
"I try not to go in thinking to fight, because then I get off my game," Roy said. "But if there's something to be done, I'll do it ... I know when to react or when I need to get something going."
He may not be looking for trouble, but the statistics suggest it's coming to town tomorrow night in the form of the Anaheim Ducks, who pay a visit to the Saddledome for the first time this season. The Ducks are tied for the league lead with 37 fighting majors, including 10 bouts featuring heavyweight George Parros.
The Flames are tied for fifth in the NHL with 29 dust-ups.
Sounds like a recipe for trouble.
Parros and Roy were both scratched when the Ducks and Flames met Nov. 2, but the two have a history. They danced in 2006, although neither landed any solid blows.
"I know who their tough guy is," Roy said. "If it's Anaheim or Minnesota or Vancouver, I always know who's the guy I need to face if something happens. There's one or two guys, usually, on every team. The rest, they're just little guys yapping and playing their roles, but they won't do anything about it."