Flames’ future hinges on improved five-to-five performance


EDMONTON – Conventional wisdom has suggested that the Calgary Flames won’t go as far in these playoffs as the top line will carry them.

The reality is that the Flames have survived this long despite the top line’s inability to contribute offensively.

Outside of the power play, they have been invisible as a unit.

No sustained pressure against the Dallas Stars, and very few offensive chances.

To get here, the team’s depth scorers and goalkeeper took turns playing the hero, while Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm scored just one five-on-five goal in these playoffs.

You read correctly.

The time may have come for them to mobilize.

And they know it.

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Otherwise, the year-long narrative that suggests they just aren’t built for playoff hockey will gain even more momentum – just as it will require a shakeup.

“Obviously the three in this series could be better,” said Lindholm, when asked why the team’s “top” trio were anything but. “Right now, I think we’re just dispersed. We need to be more together. After one guy picks it up and dumps it two guys are still and it’s hard to get the puck back. It’s a lot of ins and outs and a lot of time in the defensive zone. It gets closer and closer and faster. ”

Tied 2-2 with a stifling All-Star team who were the most stingy team in the West all season, the Flames as a group struggled to win the area with anything other than dumps – which Gaudreau despises.

“We’re throwing it out too much because it’s the playoffs and you don’t want to flip it,” said Gaudreau, who struggled to carry the puck over the Stars’ blue line, or “across the mud, ”as the Flames lead coach Geoff Ward called him out. “We have to try to get the puck down and check ahead and try to make some plays out of the race.

The line certainly deserves to be commended for their power-play contributions against Winnipeg, which were instrumental in the four-game series.

They’ve also embraced the new defense first mantra, handling many departures and defensive zone assignments well.

They were not a handicap in their own end.

But they are paid to score, or at the very least, create sustained offensive pressure. They have failed miserably on this front.

“At this time of year it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re a frontline player you’re supposed to score and generate, besides making sure you’re making smart plays that won’t put your team on the line. . in a difficult situation, ”said assistant coach Ryan Huska.

« [Sunday] It was the first time in this series that we felt dangerous five-on-five, and it’s something we’re looking to continue.

That’s quite an indictment, four games.

“For this line to be successful there can’t be two players or one player, it has to be all three,” said Huska, who thinks they need to play more as a unit.

“At this time of year, these guys are given so much attention and there is so little room for them to do what they’re doing right that it’s really made it difficult for them. Their challenge that I feel as a line is to make sure they do a good job supporting each other and working to come up with speed. We saw signs of life outside of that line last night and that’s a really positive thing for us.

The signs of life are not enough.

What it takes is a steady boost from what should be this team’s heartbeat.

Instead, a handful of others have gotten ahead of themselves to be leaders when it matters most.

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Sunday’s heart-wrenching 5-4 overtime loss included some glimmers of hope for the trio with some sustained offensive forays, as well as two better overtime chances for Gaudreau.

Gaudreau’s goal and assist, along with Monahan’s two assists, all came on the power play.

No baby.

“I thought they were better for sure,” Ward said Monday. “We just have to keep building with it. They created scoring chances five on five [Sunday] and they did things on the power play. It looked like they had a better idea of ​​the game and what was going on there.

“We just want them to keep moving in the direction they are moving in and we’ll see what happens.” [Tuesday]. »

Lindholm found other ways to contribute to these playoffs, through the penalty. On Sunday, he led all forwards with six minutes of play on a penalty kill and had seven hits.

Unlike his line mates, no one is going to claim him to be traded if this series ends badly.

He scored the lone five-on-five goal from the line this summer out of an unassisted total in Game 2 against Winnipeg.

But they still need more of him.

Five of Gaudreau’s six points came on the power play, the other on an empty goal.

A perimeter player at the best of times, Gaudreau was far from being the fabric of the game in this tournament.

The top eight points for Monahan’s squad include five on the power play and two on the empty nets.

He will probably never get the credit he deserves for his defensive play, as his main job is to create an attack.

You don’t need statistics to back up the idea that they haven’t pulled their weight.

Nobody needs to be reminded either that if the Flames can’t figure out a way to win two more games against Dallas, the top line will be in the sights for another offseason.


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