The Calgary Flames have struggled to find the back of the net recently, as they’ve only managed to score eight goals over the course of a four-game losing skid. That all changed on Saturday night when they took on the Edmonton Oilers, as the Flames found their scoring touch putting up five goals and not allowing any against, all while toying with new forward and defensive line combinations. (From ‘Player grades: Reality check for Edmonton Oilers as Calgary Flames beat them 5-0,’ Edmonton Journal, 04/10/21)
Change of Scenery
For several months now, the lack of offense from some of the Flames’ top stars has been alarming. Many fans have called for the club’s top line which typically features Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm to be separated. Well, after Lindholm had been replaced on the top line by Brett Ritchie for the last little while in an attempt to add some physicality and energy, head coach Darryl Sutter felt it was now time to split up Gaudreau and Monahan, and boy did it ever pay off.
I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first glance when I saw Gaudreau and Monahan separated based upon what they’ve done together in their careers, but seeing how it quickly elevated everyone’s compete level and play on all four lines, I cannot argue the decision. The Oilers and Flames were scoreless after the first period on Saturday, but Calgary came out roaring in the second scoring four goals on 10 shots, with all the offense coming from players who desperately needed a spark.
After going goalless since March 13, Monahan finally cracked the code for his eighth goal and 24th point of the season. He and his new linemates also applied heavy pressure on Mike Smith and the Oilers right after Monahan’s goal, and that’s something that has been truly missing from his game for a large portion of the season, is that ability to keep his opponents hemmed in by pressuring the defense – When he’s at the top of his game, he can be dangerous.
Monahan spoke about what it was like playing on a new line following the game. “We’ve got a lot of good players on this team, I mean playing with Mangi (Andrew Mangiapane) and Dubes (Dillon Dube) it’s a different look and two guys I haven’t really played with much so I mean it was a fresh look putting the puck in the net and getting some looks.”
The shakeup in line combinations would also help Monahan’s old linemate, Gaudreau, as he labeled his team-leading 14th of the year top-shelf past Smith. Gaudreau’s goal propelled his own offensive touch, as he would gain an assist on Elias Lindholm’s second-period tally, too, which put the Flames up 3-0. To further solidify that the team was clicking with their new lines, Flames’ captain Mark Giordano silenced the critics with a late second-period marker with the assists coming from Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett.
A Complete Game
Maybe it was their time away from the rink this week that offered the Flames players an extra boost, but this was their most complete game of the season, as they received offense from five different players after Brett Ritchie also added a third-period tally for his teams fifth of the night. Jacob Markstrom didn’t have to be too active in the net because his team did such a detailed job of holding Edmonton’s scoring chances to the outside, but he set aside all 17 of the opposition’s shots to earn his third shutout as a Flame and eighth in his career.
The Flames outshot the Oilers 32-17 and all four lines for the team contributed on the scoresheet. Darryl Sutter has also been pushing the expectations of his team in practice, so look for the Flames to continue to define Sutter-style hockey as they become more accustomed to his approach. He sure didn’t have a lot to say regarding Gaudreau and Monahan splitting up, but his quote sure was one for the books. “Yeah, well it wasn’t like they were supposed to be together all the time,” said Sutter after being asked if he was pleased with the results of his two stars.
With only three wins in their last 10 games, Calgary gets set for another tough test as they face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday in what will be Milan Lucic’s 1,000th NHL game. After a solid performance from all four lines and from Markstrom in the crease, I expect that Sutter will go back to the same line combinations that got it done against the Oilers.