Flames’ Gaudreau, Monahan rediscover offence at right time for stretch run

Justin Bourne, Anthony Stewart and David Amber discuss whether the Calgary Flames are in a better position this year given current roster, goaltending and having gone through adversity.

NASHVILLE – The reality surrounding the Calgary Flames’ playoff hopes is simple.

Unless Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan can lead the team offensively down the stretch, there will be no spring hockey in Calgary.

On that front, there have been plenty of positive signs of late.

While Gaudreau isn’t challenging for the league lead in anything this year other than missed breakaways, his play this month has certainly been solid.

Ditto for Monahan, whose two goals in Boston vs. the Bruins on Tuesday broke a 1-1 tie to put the game out of reach for the league’s top outfit.

Both finishes were one-timers from Monahan’s office between the hash marks. It gives him four goals in as many games and helped him eclipse the 20-goal mark for the seventh time in his seven-year career.

A down year from his 34-goal, high-water mark last season, sure. But another productive campaign from an alternate captain who passed Lanny McDonald to sit 17th on the Flames all-time points list.

“It’s nice, but at the end of the day I want to just be in the playoffs,” said Monahan of his latest 20-goal season.

“It’s team-first right now. When you play with good players you’re going to get a lot of good looks and an opportunity to do that. Guys up front – some of us have been here a long time – it’s our job to take control and, obviously, help lead this team to where we want to be. Everybody has the same goal right now and we all want to be a part of it. Right now, we’ve got to find that consistency in our game, like we have been lately.”

The Flames headed into last month’s all-star break with one of the league’s most anaemic offences.

Gaudreau and Monahan took plenty of heat for that, ranking second and third in the league behind Phil Kessel in terms of the largest decline in points per game from last year.

Since then the Flames have led the league by averaging four goals per game, something the duo has had a significant say in.

“Johnny has been putting up points for a while now – I think he has 19 points in his last 19 games, or something,” said Flames interim coach Geoff Ward.

“He’s coming around. Not coming around, he’s been scoring.”

He’s been far more significant in games of late, showing more of the flash and dash that lifted him to 99 points last season. Although stymied on endless breakaways throughout the team’s latest offensive resurgence, he has 15 points his last 14 outings since the break.

He’s still the No. 1 setup man for Monahan, as the two have combined to score a league-leading 195 times since 2015-16.

“When Monny is shooting the puck he’s at his best,” said Ward, whose decision to put Elias Lindholm back on their wing has coincided with the team’s resurgence on offence.

“(On Tuesday) he was a shot-first guy, instead of looking for that extra pass. He ends up with a couple of goals. For us, hopefully, those guys build some momentum off it.”

Momentum is exactly what the Flames have built on the road the last few months, going a league-best 15-4-1, which includes just the third regulation win by an opponent at TD Garden all year.

An impressive one, at that.

Taking stock in and around the Flames’ dressing room after the game, it was clearly a big morale boost for an unpredictable bunch that moved back into the first wild-card spot with the 5-2 upset.

“It think it’s really significant because we talked about it in the dressing room about how everybody contributed to the win,” said Monahan.

“It shows we’re a really solid team – we’ve known that all year,” added Mikael Backlund, whose two insurance goals gave him eight in his last eight outings.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, and we know we have to be more consistent. When we play the right way we know we’re a really dangerous group.”

A deep group, capable of turning a season of underachievement into something of significance.

Only if their top tandem can continue their recent progression.

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