Flames Thoughts: Brouwer jumps to Calgary’s top line

Justin Schultz delivered in overtime, scoring to get the Penguins a 4-3 win over the visiting Flames.

After falling behind by scores of 2-0 and 3-2, the Calgary Flames fought back to pick up an important point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Monday.

BITTERSWEET SETBACK

In my opinion, Calgary outplayed Pittsburgh on Monday, but as good teams, or in their case, great teams tend to do, the Penguins found a way to win. After playing poorly in last Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Avalanche and good offensively but bad defensively in last Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers, the Flames, at least most of them, played a really good game on Monday. Calgary outshot Pittsburgh 38-32 and out-chanced them 18-15.

The bad news is the Flames didn’t pick up two points. The good news is they picked up one, so at least they didn’t leave the Steel City completely empty-handed. I suspect if the Flames play as well versus the Sabres on Wednesday and the Senators on Friday as they did against the Penguins on Monday, they’ll probably head home with five of a possible six points.

BROUWER’S BEST?

During his two seasons in Calgary, Troy Brouwer has been a whipping boy for a lot of Flames fans, who want more from the veteran winger who signed a four-year, $18-million contract with the team in the summer of 2016. After scoring 17 or more goals in seven straight seasons before arriving in Calgary, Brouwer tallied 13 last season, and prior to Monday’s game, had scored just four goals this season.

Defensively, Brouwer is still an effective player and an excellent penalty killer. Offensively, the 32-year-old is starting to come around. After recording only nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his first 39 games, Brouwer has produced 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last 22 games, including a goal and an assist in Monday’s OT loss.

With Micheal Ferland struggling in his return to the lineup, Glen Gulutzan decided to swap him and Brouwer in the third period, moving Ferland to the fourth line with Matt Stajan and Curtis Lazar and Brouwer to the first line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. While I don’t expect Brouwer to stay with Monahan and Gaudreau long-term, I wouldn’t be surprised, if after what was arguably his best game as a Flame, he’s there to start Wednesday’s contest versus the Sabres.

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FIGHTIN’ IT

Gaudreau and Monahan have both had fantastic seasons. Gaudreau has already established a new career-high for assists with 54 and is only four points away from equalling his career-high of 78. Monahan is just two goals and five points away from matching his career-bests of 31 goals and 63 points. With that said, the Flames top two offensive players are really fighting it right now. Gaudreau snapped a season-long four-game pointless streak with one assist in Monday’s loss, while Monahan was held off of the scoresheet for a fourth consecutive contest.

For whatever reason, the Flames’ dynamic duo looks a little out of sync right now, as evidenced by the 2-on-0 they had in overtime that didn’t even result in a shot on goal. That’s the bad news. The good news? Gaudreau and Monahan are too good to continue to struggle much longer. I suspect they’ll be a lot better – and a lot more productive – in Buffalo on Wednesday. Feel free to call me out if I’m wrong, but I’m betting on a big breakout for Gaudreau and Monahan versus the Sabres.

PROBLEMS BETWEEN THE PIPES

Before he was injured stopping a John Tavares shot with 1.1 seconds left in a 3-2 victory over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Feb. 11, you could make a pretty strong case that Mike Smith was the Flames’ most valuable player. Eleven games later, the case is closed. With all due respect to Gaudreau, who has been one of the NHL’s best offensive players this season, Smith would get my vote. Why? While I think Gaudreau is just as, if not more irreplaceable than Smith, it’s almost impossible to win without at least average goaltending, and the Flames have gone from having above-average goaltending with Smith as their No. 1 and David Rittich as their No. 2 to below-average goaltending with the rookie tandem of Rittich and Jon Gillies.

While the young goaltenders have played well at times, the Flames, who have struggled to play consistently in front of their goaltenders at times this season, are going to need more consistent play at the game’s most important position in order to punch their ticket to the post-season. With the way Gillies struggled Monday, I expect Rittich to get the start in Wednesday’s game against the Sabres. Assuming he doesn’t suffer a setback, Smith is probably one or two weeks away from returning. In the meantime, if the Flames play to their potential in front of Gillies and Rittich, they probably won’t need their goaltenders to win a lot of games for them, but they can’t lose them, either.

ONE DOWN, THREE TO GO

Before the Flames departed Calgary, I said they needed to pick up a minimum of four points on their three-game road trip to Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Ottawa. By picking up an important point in Monday’s overtime loss to the Penguins, the Flames now need three of four in Wednesday’s game against the Sabres and Friday’s contest versus the Senators, two teams well outside the playoff picture.

While four points was my minimum requirement, I’d like their chances a lot more if they returned home with five, because that would mean that they’d have the confidence and momentum that would come with two-game winning and three-game point streaks going into another winnable game against the Islanders at home on Sunday.

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