Flames’ top line contributing in other ways against Avalanche

NHL insider Eric Francis joins Dan Murphy to break down the Calgary Flames Game 1 win over Colorado, and why it was night that goalie Mike Smith will never forget.

CALGARY – The perception in Calgary has long been that if the Flames’ top trio isn’t chipping in offensively, they’re not contributing at all.

Game 1 proved otherwise for the Flames when Elias Lindholm excelled as a penalty killer, Sean Monahan was a perfect 9-0 in the faceoff circle and Johnny Gaudreau padded a stat he has long ignored.

In the midst of Thursday’s 4-0 win, Gaudreau was credited with two hits, bringing his season total to a whopping 14.

“I don’t know if I’d call them hits – they were just kind of like, grind em’ out to the wall and cut em’ off a little bit,” smiled the 165-pound jitterbug, whose toolbox doesn’t need to include pasting opponents.

“It important to get in front of guys and give the defencemen time and space in our zone. Everyone has to do it – not just the big guys.”

Lindholm, who was referred to as The Swedish Beast Saturday morning by coach Bill Peters, had five hits in a game that saw the Flames more than triple their nightly hit count to 36 against Colorado.

“I saw one there in the corner,” he smiled when asked about Gaudreau’s physicality.

“Obviously we don’t expect too much hitting from him. Doing what he did was excellent. Obviously we always want to score – we’re those kind of guys that feel good about ourselves when we score and help the team. But we’re not going to score every game. It’s the playoffs and it’s going to be tight out there. If you’re not going to score you have find different ways to contribute and I thought we did a pretty good job.”

Calgary hockey fans have been concerned by the tapered scoring binges of the Flames top trio since the all-star break, which isn’t to be confused with it being a problem.

The depth of this team has long been helping the squad win on nights the top line is muted, and Game 1 was a perfect example.

Given how many heroes the opening game produced for the Flames, not a single media member even asked to speak with anyone on the top line Friday.

They weren’t the story.

With Mikael Backlund’s 3M Line scoring three times and spending over 20 minutes shutting down Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, Gaudreau and Monahan only played 15 and 14 minutes, respectively.

Both were comfortable with their contributions.

“I thought we played really well in our own zone,” said Gaudreau.

“We didn’t get many looks in the O (offensive) zone – it was pretty tight out there. We got some momentum on the power play and a big goal (scored by Tkachuk). Overall I thought we had a good game. It’s not all about finding the net sometimes. Other guys stepped up to get the win. The goals will come.”’

Peters pointed out that Gaudreau drew a penalty in the game and was happy with his line’s play.

“There’s a lot of ways you can make an impact in the game,” said Peters, who will go with the same lineup for Game 2 Saturday night, including starting goalie Mike Smith.

“Monny was good on faceoffs, which means we had the puck and didn’t have to defend. You look around the league, there are lots of matchups with primary defenders and that opens up things for other lines. I thought the Monahan line was good.”

Lindholm spearheaded the team’s perfect penalty-killing units, spending more than four minutes playing shorthanded while also throwing his weight around and adding an assist.

“He plays hard. He’s got a little dirt in his pocket. He likes it. He’s a gamer,” said Peters. “We’ve got a lot of guys that relish that type of game. We’ve always responded this year when the games get greasy.”

It’s an interesting observation given the Flames finished last in the league in hits this season.

“We have the puck a lot,” said Peters by way of explanation.

“That’s the theory. I don’t know if it’s accurate. Some analytics guy can look into it – give him something to do for the afternoon. The game is not until 8:30.”

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