Flames still searching for missing piece on top line as playoff push begins

David Perron scored in regulation and in the shootout to help the St. Louis Blues beat the Calgary Flames 5-4.

CALGARY – Like a scene they could easily have added in Elf, chants of “Bud-dy, Bud-dy,” rang out at the Dome late Tuesday night.

Making his first NHL appearance in four years, 28-year-old AHL call-up Buddy Robinson found himself on the Flames top line late in a 4-4 tie with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Throwing his six-foot-six, 225-pound frame into several St. Louis Blues prompted the fan response, but it was a pass that sent Johnny Gaudreau in alone that had the bench buzzing.

Just like old times, as Robinson and Gaudreau were high school linemates in New Jersey.

“It’s a dream to play with a close friend that you grew up with,” said Robinson, whose eighth NHL game comes after almost 500 AHL turns.

“But now that the first one is out of the way it’s time to get back to work with two big games against Edmonton.

“I hear it’s a pretty big rival…”

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After weeks of significant chatter, the Flames are now poised for their eagerly-anticipated home-and-home set, starting Wednesday in Edmonton.

On Tuesday the stage was set for the Flames to demonstrate whether they’d be able to shake off the all-star game rust that’s been so deadly around here the last few years.

Cam Talbot was the first to demonstrate the rough edges of his and the team’s game by allowing the first shot to get past him in an entertaining game that somehow finished with the Flames earning a point in a 5-4 shootout loss.

The fact that Robinson stood out is a testament to the big story of the night, which was the Flames first line.

For the first time in a while they actually had one.

Never mind the fact Sean Monahan and Gaudreau started the night with Derek Ryan on their right side and finished with Robinson. The duo was once again dynamic.

Exactly what this team will need if it is to make the playoffs and any sort of waves thereafter.

A pair of power play goals for Sean Monahan, including his 400th NHL point, came from the slot in which he’s scored so many times before.

Both times Gaudreau was the one who helped get it to him (one on a rebound), which accounts for 57 per cent of Monahan’s 166 snipes since Gaudreau arrived.

Those sequences need to continue if the team is to stay in this Pacific Division rat race.

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“I thought we played in the offensive zone a pretty good amount tonight and had some really good looks in the third with Buddy,” said Gaudreau, whose club went three for three with the man advantage, before stumbling on their plum power play in overtime.

“(Monahan) capitalized on some good power play goals. I thought it was a good first game back for our line.”

Gaudreau was named the game’s first star.

Monahan was second.

Nothing could be sweeter sounding to the ears of Flames fans that are praying the duo can improve upon a sub-par first half.

The question continues to be, who will ride shotgun with the duo?

They’ve tried almost every combination imaginable, which is why the 30-minute Robinson experiment might actually get a reprise at some point.

“In high school I used to be a skilled guy so there wasn’t much hitting,” laughed Robinson when asked the last time he heard chants for his physical play.

“And then Johnny’s dad (who coached them) beat that out of me when I turned 6-6, so I’ll keep forechecking. And if they want to keep chanting that would be great.”

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The Flames’ first test was a good one for a team that lost five of six after last year’s break.

It opened as a track meet that saw three lead changes in a first period in which Talbot’s rust from being off since Jan. 11 showed.

Although it was Talbot’s first loss in five outings, let’s just say, it’s clear the starter in Edmonton will be David Rittich.

Monahan’s second of the night, early in the second, tied it 3-3 before Mark Jankowski’s second of the year put the Flames up midway through the game.

Shortly after Andrew Mangiapane opened the third period by hitting the post with a rebound, Zach Sanford skated down the ice and beat Talbot high, short side to tie it.

A squandered power play in overtime by the Flames led to a shootout in which Talbot was beaten by both David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly before the Flames third shooter got his chance.

The loser point put the Flames one ahead of the Oilers and two back of division-leading Vancouver.

None of it will matter Wednesday, as The Battle of Alberta returns.

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