ANAHEIM – The last time the Calgary Flames started this well, they won their only Stanley Cup.
This is how you get there, with a new hero every night.
Oh sure, on their way to the very top of the NHL standings, where they now sit, the Flames have relied on ol’ standbys, like Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Tkachuk and anybody wearing a Flames goalie mask.
But Friday’s 4-3 shootout win saw a few depth changes emerge as significant cogs in the team’s magnificently spinning wheel.
While highlight-reel shootout goals by Gaudreau and Tkachuk ultimately seared the Ducks, it was Sean Monahan and Blake Coleman whose rare snipes made it possible in what was formerly the team’s house of horrors.
With Coleman demoted to Monahan’s third line for the first time, both ended significant droughts with goals that helped the league’s best road team build a 3-1 lead they ultimately turned into the team’s second shootout victory.
A perennial 30-goal scorer who has been turned into a bottom-six player by Darryl Sutter, Monahan’s two-point night was capped by a second period finish in alone on John Gibson he made no mistake with.
His third of the season was his very first even strength strike.
It came ten minutes after he made a world-class, no-look pass to Coleman allowing him to snap a 16-game scoring slump.
“As much as you want to say guys understand, it does bother them,” said assistant coach Ryan Huska of their collective struggles.
“They know they have a role to play, but they have to contribute. And when they get chances, and they don’t go in, they start lying awake at night, thinking about the ones they missed.
So, it’s nice to see them get rewarded.”
By night’s end Calgary’s third unit, with Trevor Lewis, had five points, 11 shots on goal and was dominant in the faceoff circle, where Monahan was 9-of-15.
“I’m trying to bear down in the circle and do the little things,” said Monahan when asked how he’s tried to contribute on a third line he’d never really played on before this season.
“Wherever I am in the lineup you try to thrive in that spot. The biggest thing I’m happy about is where we are in the standings.”
If anyone thought the Flames were capable of starting a league-best 15-4-5, surely one might have assumed it was with Monahan playing a prominent role after bouncing back from hip surgery.
However, Sutter has him playing far from his age-old linemate, Gaudreau, working hard as a mucker.
His only carrot is remaining on the top power-play unit where he deserves full credit for snagging eight of his 12 points to help the group sit fifth in power play percentage.
“You’ve just got to grind,” said Monahan.
“When it’s not coming and not working you’ve got to stick with it.
“You don’t want to get frustrated because then you lose other aspects of your game. You’ve just got to stick with it and build your confidence up slowly.”
For a man who was the first in his draft class to reach 200 goals last season, it can’t be easy.
“I think it started last year a little bit where he was asked to change his role a touch to be a 200-foot player – not one complaint at the time,” said Huska.
“This year moved to different situations, probably situations that he wasn’t expecting at the beginning of the year. Hasn’t had a bad day yet and not one complaint about it and he’s continued to work. I think that says a lot about his character and what he’s willing to do to help our team have success.”
His setup on Coleman’s goal saw him expertly swat a centering pass by Lewis out of the air, right onto Coleman’s blade.
“I do try to focus on other parts of my game when the puck is not going in for me, whether it’s being more physical, penalty kill, making simple plays to get the puck out of the zone,” said Coleman earlier in the day, admitting his lack of production was weighing on him.
“It’s not always real glamorous, but I’m not overly concerned about the production in the sense that I know what I’m capable of, and so does the team. It will come.”
It sure did, at a perfect time for a team improving its league-best road record to 11-2-2.
Backup netminder Dan Vladar was sensational once again, turning aside 31 shots to up his record to a near-perfect 5-0-1. He was instrumental in the team getting to the extra frame after an Erik Gudbranson delay of game penalty allowed the Ducks to tie the game early in the third.
In his first NHL shootout, the 24-year-old stopped both Anaheim shooters while Calgary’s top guns made good on both shots, which included a patented Gaudreau roof jobby and Tkachuk’s version of Peter Forsberg’s one-handed deke move.
The win extended their road point streak to eight contests, two shy of the franchise record.
The Flames four-game roadie continues in Vegas Sunday without Juuso Valimaki, who was demoted to Stockton Thursday after playing in just eight of the team’s first 23 games.
“He’s the youngest defenceman here and it doesn’t serve any purpose for him to watch – he’s got to play games,” said Sutter of the first rounder.
“He probably got ahead of the curve a little bit. He’s got to get back to earning it and showing it, rather than it bestowed on him.
“I don’t have any timeline. Brad (Treliving) and I talked about it. We just want him to go play lots. The foundation of his game, he has to get that in terms of how you have to play in the NHL in order to be successful.”