After starting the New Year with five straight wins, the Calgary Flames are sitting just two points back of the Arizona Coyotes for the top spot in the Pacific Division. The Flames’ recent win streak, which was snapped by the Montreal Canadiens in a 2-0 loss on Jan. 13, was fueled by the success found by Calgary’s top-six forwards. The Flames relied on forwards Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Johnny Gaudreau throughout the win streak, and the Flames will continue to rely on them as they make a playoff push.
Contributing Heavily in Wins
This season, Lindholm, Monahan, Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk are all on pace to fall short of their point totals from last year. Despite the drop-off, the Flames have still relied on their big names to produce and get them wins. Their numbers show that, in wins, their top dogs produce often but, in losses, the numbers tell a tougher tale.
In 25 wins this year, Lindholm has put up 27 points (14 goals and 13 assists), Monahan has contributed 27 points (10 goals and 17 assists), and Gaudreau has tallied 25 points (10 goals and 15 assists). Tkachuk has also added 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists) in 24 wins this year. Each of those players has a plus-minus of plus-nine or more in those victories.
Production and winning go hand-in-hand with the Flames top offensive weapons, but their numbers in losses this season, which take a hard nosedive, shows how the team depends on their contributions.
In 23 losses this year, Lindholm has just nine points (six goals and three assists) and is a minus-22, Monahan is a minus-23 and has nine points (four goals and five assists), Gaudreau has 13 points (three goals and ten assists) and is a minus-21, and Tkachuk is a minus-19 with 14 points (four goals and ten assists).
Gaudreau and Monahan Reunited
Since taking over as the Flames interim head coach on Nov. 29, Geoff Ward has found success by juggling the lines and working with different combinations.
At times, Gaudreau found himself alongside Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic on the third line. Now, Gaudreau is reunited with Monahan on the top line alongside Mikael Backlund, where he’s recorded five points (two goals and three assists) in his last five games.
Gaudreau has struggled to find offensive consistency this year, but he’s been catching fire since the start of 2020. Gaudreau has seven points (three goals and four assists) in six games since the beginning of the New Year. His three goals in January so far has already surpassed his total of two goals back in November.
More Top-Six Help Coming?
With the Flames relying on consistent production from their top-six forward group, and with the Pacific Division race being as tight as it is, general manager Brad Treliving could look to obtain additional help to further bolster their top two lines.
The Flames second line currently has Lindholm playing between Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane. Names like Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski have been thrown around in previous trade talks, and an additional top-six weapon would allow the Flames to move Mangiapane down to their bottom-six group, potentially alongside Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube.
A top-six winger, for example, would also give the Flames the option of moving Lindholm to the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan, allowing Backlund to centre the second line. For Treliving, the standings, the asking price, and the available names will all be weighed and considered before any kind of deal is done.
Lack of Depth Production
Gaudreau and Tkachuk currently lead the Flames with 38 points, with Monahan and Lindholm following behind with 36 points each. From there, the points race on the Flames drops off with Ryan sitting fifth at 24 points.
After Ryan, the next highest-scoring bottom-six forward is Milan Lucic with 10 points. All others are currently struggling to hit double digits. That could be due to the fact that the bottom-six group has been a revolving door for the Flames this year with Austin Czarnik playing eight games, Alan Quine playing nine games, and Zac Rinaldo playing 12 games. For others, offensive struggles have been a disappointing reality. Nashville Predators netminder Pekka Rinne currently has a goal and two assists this year, outscoring Flames forward Mark Jankowski who has just one assist in 37 games to go along with being a minus-13.
The trade deadline is just over a month away, and upcoming match-ups against bottom-feeders like the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks could provide opportunities for the Flames depth forwards to gain offensive momentum. Their next five games feature tough competition against the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, and two games against the Edmonton Oilers that have the potential to get spicy after Tkachuk and Zack Kassian reignited the battle of Alberta.
Making the playoffs won’t be an easy task for the Flames, but their current lack of depth scoring could already be a concern when thinking about playoff possibilities. Playoff hockey, specifically, is a four-line game, and depth contributions can often make-or-break a series.
Bottom-six scoring can be added to Treliving’s list of concerns as the season progresses and heads towards the final stretch. The deadline could be an opportunity to move on from names like Bennett and Jankowski, who were once highly-touted in the organization.
If the Flames bottom-end production picks up, and struggling players start to turn it around, it would go along nicely with a contributing top-six unit and a fairly reliable goaltending group that now has All-Star credentials, with starter David Rittich officially named as Darcy Kuemper’s replacement.
Calgary Flames reporter/analyst with a passion for all things hockey.