There isn’t a more important player on the Calgary Flames than Johnny Gaudreau.
These are his playoffs to prove he can elevate his game when needed most.
Yet, things are not off to an optimal start for No. 13.
Day 2 of camp still has the Flames top line winger separated not only from his linemates, but from the main group.
For the second day in a row Gaudreau skated in a group of nine players, while his regular linemates — Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm — skated together in the main group of 23.
With 12 days to prepare for the trip to Edmonton where the Flames will face Winnipeg in their best-of-five play-in series starting Aug. 1, Gaudreau would ideally be working his way back into top form alongside the two men he will combine with to help determine their playoff fate.
A poor showing by the trio, like last year, and the Flames could have the rest of the summer off as early as Aug. 5.
The reason for the split?
Well, read into interim head coach Geoff Ward’s clandestine comments from Monday any way you want, when he explained the odd groupings by saying they were due to “circumstances that became apparent last week.”
He said he couldn’t elaborate.
It certainly piqued everyone’s curiosity, and sure messed with the team’s ability to take full advantage of their brief time to get back up to speed as units.
“Obviously we would like to work on a bit more chemistry right away, but with two groups we get a lot of reps in, and it’s more important to get used to the ice and skating than chemistry,” said Lindholm, who led the team at the March pause with 29 goals. “It’s easy to play with Johnny and hopefully we can find that chemistry we had last season.
“You don’t have to practice every day to find that chemistry. You just have to find open spots and he will find you. We’ll see what will happen in the next couple of days.”
Is that a suggestion Gaudreau will join the adult table soon?
Ward said things could change on a daily basis with the groups, but on Tuesday it was the exact same rosters.
That meant third line winger Dillon Dube and Buddy Robinson were still “unable to participate” and that Andrew Mangiapane was also separated from his usual second line pals, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. (Derek Ryan was also scratched Tuesday after leaving practice early Monday).
Monahan downplayed Gaudreau’s absence from the big boys, hinting that whatever COVID-19 constraints have been placed on the team would end soon enough.
“The big thing is timing and game situational stuff,” he said when asked of things they’d normally be working on as a trio.
“At the moment we’re in two different groups. I think it’s good they’re broken down so you’re getting your work in and your reps. I’m not really too worried – individually you’ve got to be prepared and be ready for whatever will come. I’m sure we’ll be back together soon.”
Ward hinted as much.
“At some point we’re going to get them back together and they’ll take off from there,” said the interim coach following Tuesday’s pair of skates.
“They’ve had enough chemistry together over time that when we get them back together I’m sure it will be like riding a bike. I’m not that worried about it to be honest with you.”