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How will Flames be affected by long layoff?



Calgary Flames Milan Lucic

They’re back. All of them. Dan Vladar returned to the Calgary Flames on Monday as the final player to clear COVID protocol. Now the biggest question – aside from whether the NHL will be forced to postpone any more of their games this week – is how will the Flames be affected by the two-week layoff?

The Great Reset is more than a global economic talking point these days. It’s what the Calgary Flames are facing both physically and mentally as they focus on getting off to a strong start when they return to competition.

Although the team has a 15-7-6 record through a third of the season, it went into the extended holiday break (riddled with COVID) on a four-game losing streak. The longest skid of the season so far saw them earn just one point for an OT loss but a pair of regulation losses to Pacific Division rivals. That landscape has shifted as the Flames sat idly by to regain their health.

The Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks shot ahead. And although the Flames have a few games in hand now, they need to win those to make them count.

This break could either be exactly what they needed to get out of their pre-holiday funk, or a layoff that derailed what they had been building longer term throughout the first chunk of the season.

We’ll find out soon enough as they’re set to play the Kraken in Seattle on Dec. 30, and then the Winnipeg Jets at the Saddledome to ring in the new year the following night. That’s assuming no more postponements take place between now and then.

Flames have little time to get legs back up to speed

“We’ve just got to find our legs, our lungs, our hands and our game again,” veteran Calgary Flames winger Milan Lucic told the media via Zoom. “That’s one thing about (head coach) Darryl (Sutter), he’s going to make us work hard the next couple of days so we’re ready for that game, whenever it is.”

It’s impossible to be at the top of your game after two weeks without skating. During the layoff, players who weren’t experiencing any of the symptoms did what they could to stay game ready. But it’s not easy.

“Obviously, the first week, (I wasn’t able to do) much when I was feeling a little sick. It was tough to get workouts in then — it was mostly just laying in bed and try to roll over, switch sides so you don’t get sore from laying down too much,” said goaltender Jacob Markstrom. “And then obviously try to keep the cardio going the last week here at home and get on the bike and get on the treadmill and lift some weights. But nothing too crazy.

“You can kind of get a little head start from doing stuff at home but it’s tough to mimic the shots coming at you.”

The other kinds of shots, they believe, are what kept the symptoms mild as Omicron blasted through the team. But as Sutter says, every player reacts a little differently to the illness and so he didn’t push them too hard on the first day back.

Reunited players in good spirits

“A lot of these guys haven’t skated for a couple of weeks, plus (had) COVID. The guys who tested positive, which most of them did, everybody is going to react a little differently. So it’s not like you have a theme in practice. You are just trying to get everybody through the first one,” Sutter said.

The guys trotted out to talk to screens as media availability returned to the world of Zoom all seemed to be in really good spirits. They gushed about how good it was to be back together, but they also realized there is a lot of uncertainty as to how prepared they’ll really be if the puck drops in Seattle late Thursday night.

“I had to laugh. It felt like I was back in the WHL and you have this 12-day Christmas break and you come back after that and you have to find it and get rolling right off the bat again,” said Lucic. “We’ve just got to do whatever we can to prepare ourselves to give ourselves the best chance to come out with our legs underneath us, like we had before we all got shut down.”

Markstrom’s sarcasm was on full display, too. He had a great answer when asked how long it will take to get back into game shape.

“Hopefully tomorrow,” he said with a smirk. “I need a good meal tonight, and a good sleep, and hopefully game shape tomorrow.”

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