CALGARY – The Calgary Flames’ depth is about to be tested.
So are Bill Peters’ juggling skills.
The Flames’ top centre left Friday’s win over the Rangers after playing nine minutes in the first period.
It wasn’t preceded by a hellacious hit or an obvious tweak, he simply didn’t return for the second period.
Bill Peters said after the game Monahan suffered from an illness similar to the one ailing Mike Smith this week, and confirmed his top centre won’t be travelling to Winnipeg after the game for a Saturday night tilt with the Jets.
The early night comes three days after Monahan was asked to leave the game by an NHL concussion spotter following a heavy hit by New Jersey’s Blake Coleman. The Flames’ first-line centre returned to that game and practised with the club Thursday. He even spoke to the media, but one has to wonder if complications from the hit contributed to the illness.
The absence of their 31-goal scorer thrusts Derek Ryan into a spotlight that will likely see him anchor the top trio.
Ryan filled Monahan’s spot for the duration of Friday’s game and certainly has the trust of Peters, whom the 32-year-old centre played for for three years in Carolina before he joined the coach in Calgary as a depth free agent last summer.
Peters will now have to decide if the pivot they call “Doc” can act as a viable Band-Aid between Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm on a top line that had 14 points a game earlier.
Moving Lindholm to the middle and putting Tkachuk up with the big lads may seem like a logical fix.
But the coach would likely be hesitant to break up the second unit of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Tkachuk as they posted 11 points two games earlier.
On Friday they added eight more, including a career-tying night for Tkachuk, who had two goals and three assists.
“It’s not a competition,” laughed the 21-year-old winger, who extended his career highs in goals (32), assists (41) and points (73).
“Although that last shift, Backs and Fro wanted me to get six like Johnny (Gaudreau) last game, but I might have toe-picked there and couldn’t get it done.”
That’s 10 points in the Flames’ three-game homestand for the pending restricted free agent, who is unquestionably in line to be the highest-paid Flame of all time this summer at over $7 million annually.
It took Tkachuk 23 games before that trio of outings to rack up 10 points as the top two lines went through a well-documented slump.
Tkachuk’s career night opened with a long bomb from his own zone he flipped 90 feet to where Gaudreau darted in alone and put a world-class deke on Alexandar Georgiev to open the scoring.
“I saw Johnny flying and I saw the defenceman wasn’t looking at me, so if I threw it in the air he couldn’t turn around and catch it,” said Tkachuk of the highlight-reel pass that bounced and almost stopped on the opposition’s blue line.
“It landed with a fortunate bounce and Johnny went in and finished it with a great move. Honestly, I think the highlight is Johnny beating the guy and kind of roasting him with speed, getting a fortunate bounce and making that move on Georgiev.”
Tkachuk’s trademark redirect of a Mark Giordano shot made it 2-1 early in the second before pretty Tkachuk setups for Garnet Hathaway and Frolik were easily converted.
Another Tkachuk goal midway through the third salted the game away, helping the Flames leapfrog San Jose once again for tops in the West – a tough place to stay without your top centre.
“I think he’s just under the weather and won’t travel – we don’t want it going through the team,” said Peters of Monahan.
“He just wasn’t feeling right after the first. We’re hoping that’s what it is, therefore we’re not going to put him on the plane.”
The Flames have been largely unscathed by the injury bug this season. Anything more than a brief illness could be stomach-turning for a club prepping for its first playoff spin in two years.
The Flames recently summoned Stockton’s leading scorer, Alan Quine, from the minors and will press the left-shooting veteran into duty Saturday, likely as the fourth centre.
Peters said he’ll also make changes defensively in an effort to get a few more of his nine blue-liners into the lineup. Rasmus Andersson stayed in the game following a healthy slash on the wrist by Brett Howden, but may be a candidate to nurse it Saturday.
David Rittich won his third straight start, making 24 saves as the club tries to determine which netminder will start the playoffs for the team.