Compared to a year ago, the Calgary Flames have a better record and are closer to the Western Conference's top eight clubs.
That's the good news.
But nobody is doing celebratory cartwheels or lighting up fireworks to celebrate.
"The gap's closer, but it's still not where we want to be. There's no hiding that fact," said centre Brendan Morrison. "Our inability to win games early in the year, close games, our powerplay not coming through for us early on really put us in a hole.
"We've played better hockey and are starting to gain a little bit of ground, but we've got a long way to go."
Before the puck dropped on Wednesday's NHL action, the Flames (15-15-4) were only three points back of the eighth-place San Jose Sharks, although the Sharks had played four fewer games.
After 34 games last season, the Flames were fumbling and bumbling to a 14-17-3 record and were eight points back of eighth spot.
"Well, we were pretty bad last year," succinctly stated centre Olli Jokinen. "There shouldn't be any guys in our room happy right now.
"Our goal was to be three or four games above .500 at the 35-game mark. Obviously, that's not going to be the case. We're .500 now with a couple of tough games before Christmas."
Before they break for Christmas, the Flames play host to the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night at the Saddledome (7:30 p.m., TSN) before heading to Vancouver to face the Canucks the next night.
It ends a tough stretch of games -- seven in 10 nights in all four NHL time zones -- and all but one versus squads currently in playoff positions.
"The schedule doesn't get any easier (after), it doesn't for any team, it just gets tougher," said coach Brent Sutter. "That's why these two games are big. They're huge for us. We want to be with the pack. We want to make sure we continue to push and continue to try and push up the standings."
Pushing up the charts won't be easy immediately after Christmas. The Flames will embark on a six-game road swing while the world juniors tournament takes over the Saddledome.
No matter how you look at it all, it's four weeks of hard time.
"I don't think it's a daunting task. It's a good challenge for us, no question," Morrison said of the difficult stretches before and after Christmas. "Our road record hasn't been great and we lost four on the road (the last trip).
"We can't get too caught up in worrying how long this trip is or how many games we have on the road. It's just the next game, that's the only way to approach it."
After that six-game road swing with games against Columbus, the New York Islanders, Ottawa, Nashville, Washington and Boston, the Flames have 40 games remaining, 26 of them at home.
As goofy as it sounds, they do have a chance to make a run similar to the hot streak they had to finish last season.
"That would be pretty far-fetched to say we're going to do it again," Morrison said. "Can it happen? Yeah, it can happen, but to sit here and rely solely on that is ...," he said looking for the right word.
Lunacy would be one.
Considering so many are writing off the Flames at that point, they could use wild and crazy hopes.
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