Monahan and Gaudreau certainly bore the brunt of the criticism while the Flames struggled to a slow start that included six losses in a row near the end of November.
It’s time they got some credit.
It’s no coincidence the team’s dramatic turnaround of late coincides with a rebirth of sorts by the duo typically referred to as Johnny and Monny.
Monahan followed up an overtime winner in Denver on Monday with another nifty goal in Glendale, Ariz., Tuesday to extend his goal streak to four games and a point streak to seven.
It has helped make the Flames the NHL’s hottest team.
A 5-2 win over the typically stingy Coyotes gives the Flames a six-game win streak that began the night Geoff Ward took over the bench. There are a lot of heroes these days for a team now sitting just two points out of the top spot in the Pacific division held by the Edmonton Oilers and Coyotes.
Remarkable, really, given all this team has been through.
It was Ward who decided perhaps it was time to help take pressure off of Monahan and Mikael Backlund simultaneously by putting them together on the second line with hopes of kick-starting their offensive side.
Gaudreau has been starting games on the third line, only to be reunited with Monahan early on. Both have responded favourably as part of a turnaround that has done well to distance the team from the cloud Bill Peters’ investigation and departure hung over a struggling bunch.
Gaudreau continued to pull himself out of his early fun with his seventh goal of the season Tuesday. In the eight-game point string the Flames have pieced together, he has quietly collected six points.
Monahan has five goals and eight points in that stretch, yet few are talking about either of them due to the recent stretch of heroics from the team’s depth charges.
Gaudreau and Monahan sit 64th and 43rd in league scoring with 24 and 26 points, respectively. Matthew Tkachuk, who missed Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury, leads the team with 27 points.
Since Ward came in with a plan to see players as partners, empowering them to claim ownership in the program, 12 different players have scored for the Flames on radically re-jigged lines. That list includes:
• Milan Lucic scoring his first as a Flame (after 27 games) and going on to score in three of his last four games.
• AHL call-up Dillon Dube scoring three goals and seven points his last five games.
• Derek Ryan scoring once and adding five helpers in his last four games.
In the 27 games before Ward was officially named interim coach, the quartet of Lucic, Dube, Ryan and Rinaldo had combined for 16 points. In the last five games under Ward, they’ve combined for 19.
It all helps explain how the Flames have gone from being the league’s 29th-ranked team offensively to a binge in which they’ve scored three or more goals in eight of their last nine outings.
This is how it was supposed to be when the Flames brought back an identical lineup this fall to the one they used to top the Western Conference last regular season.
The depth that was touted as the team’s biggest asset this season is finally coming to the fore.
Still, whether they get any credit for it, Monahan and Gaudreau have quietly been big parts of this dramatic resurgence.
It bears repeating, the Flames are 42-3-1 when both of them score in the same game, regardless of whether they play on the same line as they have off and on of late.
The third line (Lucic/Ryan/Dube) has been the driving force the last three weeks, while the fourth line starred in the team’s triumphant two-game roadie through Colorado and Arizona.
Both were considered significant tests for a Flames team that had previously rebuilt its confidence playing relative patsies.
They’ll face another formidable opponent Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit to kick-start a four-game homestand that also includes Carolina, Pittsburgh and Montreal.
Both netminders are playing well, the offence is coming from everywhere and confidence continues to grow.
"It’s extremely gratifying to know that when everyone is buying in, this is how successful we can be," said Cam Talbot, who stopped 46 shots Tuesday for his second win in three outings.
"These two wins were big statement wins."
Which included strong showings from the team’s two most important forwards.