Asked how Gaudreau managed to regain the scoring touch that escaped him in the first month of Sutter’s tenure, the coach was quick to respond.
“Because he’s pulling more on the puck,” Sutter said. “Most were 5v5 tied. When he’s not scoring, if you look at his 5v5 numbers, it’s because he doesn’t get 5v5 shots. He’s pretty upscale. so that if he succeeds, he will score. He can play those percentages as well as, if not better, than anyone in the league.
Gaudreau’s 18 goals for the team match his total last year, when he played 20 more games.
That puts him on pace to score 30 in a full season, which would be six goals off his career high set in 2018.
A surprisingly respectable pace in the midst of a horrific season for the Flames.
You would have struggled to convince anyone he would get any closer to a career number as he battled the first 14 games under Sutter, scoring twice and adding two assists as the Flames vanished from playoff race .
The new dump-and-chase, defense-first system didn’t seem to suit Gaudreau’s game.
Fast forward to Wednesday night when Gaudreau hopes to extend a seven-game streak with a little help from his friends.
“Kind of got a little stale up there with the old line mates,” said Gaudreau, when asked to explain his recent offensive surge. “Playing with a few new guys, obviously a couple of very talented players in Chucky (Matthew Tkachuk) and Lindy (Elias Lindholm). I’m sure it has a lot to do with it.
Indeed, Gaudreau’s new life without Sean Monahan by his side has seen his trio play as the leading line that this team has missed most of the season.
Goals are still hard to hit for a Flames team that could be mathematically eliminated from the playoff race on Wednesday.
But Gaudreau’s line has done well to create sustained pressure in the attacking zone in recent weeks – something his line did not generate when playing alongside Monahan and Brett Ritchie. While in the zone, he practices what the coach preaches by putting the puck on the net.
“Obviously pull more, as he puts it – something I have to be better at throughout my career,” Gaudreau said of his changed mindset. “I’ve had a lot of good chances throughout this year to shoot the puck and have found the net a number of times. When the shot is there, I’ll take it, but when the pass is there, I’ll play and pass the puck.
He always has and probably always will, which is why he is one of the main playmakers in the game.
However, there’s a lot to be said for the element of surprise when a man with a reputation for a first pass like his chooses to wire it to the top of the page.
This explains how he concocted the highest shooting percentage of his career this year at 18.6% – more than double the rate from last year.
“For a lot of guys at the high end of the assists (leaders), they’re looking to pass instead of shooting,” Sutter admitted. “At the same time, when you’re playing for a team that doesn’t have a lot of scorers, and deep down, the more he shoots the better he is.”
Judged throughout his career entirely on production, Sutter insists he has seen Gaudreau’s growth in other areas of late.
“There’s a lot more to the game than just scoring,” said Sutter, whose club opens Wednesday’s game with the Jets 10 points behind fourth-place Montreal with six games to go.
“Producing isn’t just about scoring, it’s the 200-foot game on good teams and making sure the even-matched minutes are good. He wanted to do that, and do more, and I think he did a good job.