Turns out Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau aren’t aware of one another’s positioning all the time.
When told they ranked amongst the very best in the NHL for most goals combined on since 2016-17, Monahan broke into a big grin.
“It’s cool – I didn’t know that stat and I’m sure Johnny doesn’t either,” said the 24-year-old year Flames centre who has hooked up with his pal 80 times the last two years and change.
“Obviously we get a lot of ice time, we play power play and overtime, so if we’re not producing and getting the job done someone else is going to fill that role. So we’ve got to stay on our toes and produce and play the right way night in and night out.”
They’ve been doing that so well the last two seasons they’ve outscored the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl pairing, as well as a duo the Flames will host Wednesday night, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Only Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel (84 goals) and David Pastrnak-Marchand (82) have hooked up more often than the Flames’ top pairing.
The Oilers’ top duo has scored 79 times in that span, Marchand-Bergeron 76 times and Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom 76 as well.
Some pretty heady company.
That explains why Monahan’s absence at practice Monday was a bit of a story even if coach Bill Peters insisted it was simply a maintenance day precipitated by a painful blocked shot the alternate captain absorbed Saturday.
It sets up a fascinating head-to-head with the league’s top trio, Marchand, Pastrnak and Bergeron, which became the league’s standard last season.
The Monahan-Gaudreau pairing has been a staple in Cowtown dating back two coaches to when the youngsters were put together by Bob Hartley.
“I was playing with Jonesy (David Jones) and (Curtis) Glencross and then got put in the middle between (Jiri) Hudler and Johnny and it just kind of clicked and we’ve been together ever since,” said Monahan of a bond that started with 20 games left in his second NHL season, 2014-15.
“We’ve been split up a couple times here and there but not too many.”
Why would a coach mess with chemistry that has them working the type of magic Jarome Iginla would’ve killed to have had with a teammate?
“The big thing is we know each other so well and when the game is on the line and we need to do something we step up even more,” said Monahan who has authored four straight seasons with at least 27 goals.
“When two guys are on the same page that’s when good things happen. You want the pressure.”
Monahan has 30 game-winning goals in his five seasons, including 11 last year – a large majority of which were set up by Gaudreau.
Peters recently made light of the fact the two have it backwards as the centre is usually the playmaker and the winger generally finishes.
That said, Gaudreau has 18 winners in his first four full seasons.
After having four surgeries at the conclusion of last season, Monahan is off to a solid start with four goals in five games. Gaudreau, one of the game’s top playmakers, has six helpers and two goals, including the overtime winner Saturday in Colorado.
The breakaway on which he converted to end the game, was set up with a long pass by Monahan that had Flames goalie David Rittich celebrating the win before Gaudreau reached the faceoff dot.
Rittich knew exactly what was about to happen. #HockeyNight pic.twitter.com/AgdumuiKIm
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 14, 2018
“His name is Johnny Hockey – I knew he’d score,” joked Rittich.
Predictable is what the pair has become, in terms of dependability and productivity.
“They’ve got good chemistry and they read off each other real well and they think the game the same way,” said Peters of what he’s seen from the pair early in his time in Calgary.
“That’s what allows them to have the success that they do.”
Not surprisingly the two are besties off the ice.
“I think that helps too,” said Peters.
“They’re talking hockey and watching hockey and talking on the bench about what they see. Real good pros, always trying to improve themselves and push each other to get better.”
The Flames have struggled the last few years to find the perfect complement to Gaudreau and Monahan on that top line since Hudler left.
Yet, it hasn’t dented their numbers.
Gaudreau, a three-time 24-goal scorer, is coming off a career-high 84-point season despite having Micheal Ferland moved on and off their line at different times.
They opened this season with Elias Lindholm on the right side, who has four goals so far. A success.
Yet, when things weren’t going well in Colorado Peters put Matthew Tkachuk on the top unit, which proved effective as well.
Options are something the Flames have plenty of following a busy summer of moves.
So what do they have as a duo that most others don’t?
“They know where each other is all the time,” said Peters when asked what all the top pairings had in common.
Monahan is two games away from his 400th NHL contest and if there’s one thing you can count on in Calgary it’s that Gaudreau will be right by his side to celebrate it, as well as any goals they may combine for.