Flames News & Rumors: Huberdeau, Markstrom, Zadorov & More

In this edition of Calgary Flames News & Rumors, Jonathan Huberdeau is beginning to pick things up after a slow start to the season. In other news, Jacob Markstrom has gotten off to a shaky start this season and recently acknowledged he needs to be better. Meanwhile, when speaking with the media on Monday afternoon, head coach Darryl Sutter said that Nikita Zadorov has been the team’s best defenseman this season. Last but not least, Adam Ruzicka is making the most of a recent opportunity he has been given on the Flames’ top line.

Huberdeau Slowly Picking Things Up

To say it took some time for Jonathan Huberdeau to get adapted to his new settings would be putting it lightly. The superstar winger, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade from the Florida Panthers this summer, came into the 2022-23 season with high expectations after a career-high 115 points in 2021-22. Despite that, he struggled early on, scoring just two goals and eight points through his first 13 games.

Jonathan Huberdeau Calgary Flames
Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary Flames (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After those 13 contests, he was forced to miss three straight due to a foot injury. Since returning, he has slowly been getting back to the player Flames faithful had expected, recording three points in his past four games. It is still a far cry from the player he was a season ago, but it appears he is finally setting in, meaning he could be in store for a massive breakout in the near future.

Markstrom Vows to Be Better

While Huberdeau hasn’t been great thus far in 2022-23, he is far from the only Flame who has struggled. After a 2021-22 campaign in which he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Markstrom owns an extremely disappointing 3.03 goals against average paired with a .889 save percentage in 15 games.

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“I’ve got to be better,” Markstrom admitted after a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last week. “We get it back to a one goal lead and they score right after that. That can’t happen. Quick shot. I’ve got to find a lane here and do a better job to catch the release.”

To the Swedish netminders’ credit, he has been better since. He led his team to a 5-4 victory over the Panthers days later, before stopping 23 of 25 shots in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night. Perhaps this is the start of him getting back to last season’s form.

Sutter Has High Praise for Zadorov

Throughout his lengthy coaching career, it is very few and far between that Sutter hands out compliments to his players through the media. That is what made his raving of Zadorov, the Flames’ 6-foot-6 rearguard, a pleasant surprise on Monday afternoon.

“He’s been our best player – in the physical part of the game and the execution part of the game, been our best defenseman, clearly,” Sutter said.

“Probably because… not having partners, right, that I can say that. Whoever he’s played with, he’s carried them. That’s a real positive in saying that about Z, but that’s also saying that there’s other guys that have to be better players for us.”

Nikita Zadorov Calgary Flames
Nikita Zadorov, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many were surprised this offseason when the Flames chose to hand Zadorov a two-year, $7.5 million extension, but these comments may point to why that decision was made. It is clear that Sutter appreciates the physicality the Russian defender provides, even if his footspeed can at times be an issue. Of course, these comments can also be viewed as the veteran bench boss looking to motivate others on the Flames’ blue line.

Ruzicka Excelling on Top Line

In recent games, Sutter has chosen to give Ruzicka a chance on the top line alongside Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli. This comes as somewhat of a surprise as the 23-year-old struggled to get into the lineup early in the season, though he is certainly making the most of this recent opportunity. The hulking forward has seven points over his past five games and looks like the player many had hoped he could become in recent years. (from ‘Gotta Keep it up: Flames forward Ruzicka thriving in first-line role’, Calgary Sun 11/22/22).

“Last season, I played the majority of the games on the fourth line,” Ruzicka recently explained to reporters. “When I get the chance to play on the first line, I can show everybody I can contribute and I can play on the first line. So it means a lot.”

On the year, Ruzicka has played a total of eight games, scoring four goals while adding an additional four helpers. It is a tremendous improvement from 2021-22, in which he managed five goals and 10 points in 28 outings. As long as he continues this production, he should continue to be given plenty of opportunity from Sutter.

Looking Ahead for the Flames

With their win over the Flyers on Monday, the Flames have won four of their past five games. They will look to make it five in six on Wednesday night in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They will have two more games remaining in the week after that, with the first coming against the Washington Capitals on Friday and the following coming the very next day against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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