Elias Lindholm enjoys logging major minutes for Flames

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Before the Calgary Flames departed on this two-game, home-just-in-time-for-the-holidays roadie, Elias Lindholm proudly reported that his Christmas shopping was complete.

“I’m done,” he grinned. “Just waiting for the last shipment to my house.”

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Since so many of us are counting on the Amazon drivers and Canada Post carriers for our buzzer-beating gift deliveries, you won’t catch Lindholm complaining about his own heavy lifting.

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But as the NHL’s festive break nears, the Flames’ top centre could likely benefit from a breather.

While Lindholm has long been a go-to guy, he currently is averaging almost a full minute more per game than his previous career-high.

The 29-year-old logged 23:10 of ice time during Thursday’s 3-0 blanking of the Anaheim Ducks, the largest workload for any Flames forward in a regulation-length game this season. He popped for three points in the victory with a power-play goal and a pair of assists.

Exactly a week earlier, Lindholm nearly hit 25 minutes in a shootout loss in Minnesota.

Across the NHL, there are only 13 forwards — names like Crosby, Kucherov, McDavid, Matthews and MacKinnon — who have been busier in the month of December.

“I think he’s done a good job with it,” Flames bench boss Ryan Huska praised. “There are certain days that we would have probably liked to have offered him a ‘maintenance’ day. But there’s also been times where we’ve thought about it and he says, ‘No, I want to skate.’ Because sometimes when you’re playing more, even getting on the ice for a little bit of a lighter skate at times, it makes the body feel pretty good.

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“But it’s a lot of minutes and the challenge that we have with him is those minutes are heavy — against top lines, there’s penalty-kill, there’s power-play. He kind of does everything for us. So we as coaches do have to do a job of managing his time off the ice, as well.”

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After Saturday’s clash against the Kings in Los Angeles (8 p.m. MT, CBC/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), Lindholm and his pals can kick up their skates for a three-day holiday lay-off.

The eggnog would, without a doubt, taste a little bit sweeter if they can complete a SoCal sweep. Now riding a three-game win streak, the Flames improved to 14-14-5 with their shutout victory in Anaheim and are shooting to climb above the .500 mark for the first time since October.

“We’ve played some good hockey lately,” Lindholm assessed.

Their No. 1 centre deserves a big chunk of credit for that.

While some have been underwhelmed by Lindholm’s offensive output, he has hit the scoresheet in four of his past five outings and his dynamite performance against the Ducks leaves him just one point off the team lead. He is up to 23, while Nazem Kadri tops the charts at 24.

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“We expect (Lindholm) to generate offence for us, but he’s also a guy that we expect to play against top lines,” Huska reminded prior to the trip. “His 200-foot game is right up there in the league, in our opinion, with the way he plays the game.

“When you’re a pure offensive guy, a lot of times coaches will start you in the offensive zone on faceoffs. But in Lindy’s situation, look at an example like the New Jersey game — every faceoff in the defensive zone that (Jack) Hughes was on the ice, so was Lindy.

“So that takes away a little bit of his offensive ability because he’s not in those situations. We have to trust him in other areas, as well.”

Those are kind words from Huska, but coaches give their most meaningful compliments through ice time. And Lindholm is constantly being tapped, tapped, tapped for another shift. He’s averaging 21 minutes on the season. His previous career-high was 20:02 in 2018-19, his first campaign in Calgary.

If this pending unrestricted free agent is, indeed, traded prior to the deadline, he’ll leave a major void in the lineup.

On the flip side, the Flames should be able to command a hefty return package, especially if this low-maintenance middle-man becomes a top target for multiple contenders. This week alone, the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche have been rumoured as potential suitors.

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“Obviously, the trust factor is there,” Lindholm said of his heavy workload so far this season. “I’m playing usually against the top players, so it’s a lot of responsibility and I take a lot of pride in that, try to win a lot of faceoffs and try to help the team in any way I can.

“It’s just fun to have that trust factor and play a lot of minutes.”

It’ll be fun, too, to have a few days off.

He can finally relax. As long as that last delivery arrives.

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