Revamped Monahan shows growth defensively for Flames, but offence lags

Sean-Monahan

Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan (23) skates against the San Jose Sharks during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Jeff Chiu / AP)

RALEIGH – It’s a coach’s dream come true and a poolie’s worst nightmare.

Prior to puck drop on a season of sky-high expectations for the Calgary Flames, Sean Monahan made an interesting declaration.

“I just want to continue to grow,” said the 25-year-old sniper.

“I know I can produce offensively – I just want to be a much more complete, two-way player. Whether that takes me back down to a 50- or 60-point guy, I just want to win right now. My main goal is to do whatever I can to help this team get past that hump.”

Coming off a career-high 82-point season, it seemed drastic for the team’s first-line centre to even hint at the possibility of such a drastic offensive regression.

It seemed a noble sacrifice for a leader on a team plagued by doubts it can win when the chips are down.

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But having matched or eclipsed the 27-goal mark in five of his six NHL seasons, surely the man who has been a fixture alongside a premier playmaker such as Johnny Gaudreau couldn’t dip that far down the scoring table.

Alas, 14 games in, Monahan has gone the last 12 games without a goal.

His two goals and six assists have him on pace for 46 points, which has everyone except him worried.

“I think I’ve been playing better this year – I feel good,” said Monahan, which likely surprises many fans frustrated at the team’s 6-6-2 start.

“I’m not worried about points – points will come. You go through stretches not scoring. That’s obviously what everyone is talking about right now, but it’s not a concern of mine.”

What is his focus?

“Just the little things,” he said.

“I’m trying to really bear down on faceoffs this year. Start with the puck. Being on the right side of the puck and being more physical, driving on forechecks. That type of stuff is my focus.

“Everything is going to come together here. I can always be better. I still have a lot more to give. It’s still early, but as a team and a person we still have a lot to prove.”

For now, he’ll have to prove it on the second line, as the team’s longtime go-to guy was recently bumped by Elias Lindholm as part of significant line shuffling by Bill Peters.

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“We’re not producing and not scoring goals so obviously there are going to be changes,” said Monahan, who has spent the last two games between Sam Bennett and recent call-up Alan Quine.

“It happens all the time. That’s hockey. You’re still playing power play and important minutes. That doesn’t bother me.”

Peters has long toyed with line combinations, but had never demoted Monahan. Lindholm’s faceoff proficiency and strong start earned him the top gig between Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau. However, it can’t be expected to help Monahan out of his scoring funk 5-on-5.

Peters insists he isn’t discouraging Monahan’s revamped approach to the game, although he admits he’s not all that keen on a 30 or 40-point dip.

“No, you’d rather not,” he said of the former 34-goal scorer, who has impacted several games with key setups and screens in front.

“You’d rather see the point production stay very close to what it is, which was elite, and just clean up small little areas elsewhere. You don’t want to remake a guy totally. You want to add to what he can already do.”

He can certainly finish.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

His 33 game-winning goals since 2014-15 has him third in the NHL, just six back of league-leader Alex Ovechkin.

Alas, Monahan’s new focal point stems from the frustration of being unable to finish last-season’s regular-season brilliance with a strong playoff showing. Knocked for his grit, one of the team’s most polarizing figures has done well to be more physical down low and harder on the puck.

Peters sees and appreciates that, but needs Monahan’s scoring to help turn his team’s season around.

“Oh ya, he’s more involved and better defensively for sure,” said Peters, whose team is down close to a goal a game from this time last year.

“He’s more engaged on the forecheck. He’s on the body.

Now we have to get a blend of what he is and that part of his game. We don’t want it to detract from his ability to generate offence and score goals.”

Fair or not, Monahan will ultimately always be judged by his offence.

“There is a lot of outside pressure about points – it’s really what anyone on the outside seems to care about,” said Bennett, who knows all about the subject.

“There’s so much more on the inside – the guys in the room and the coaches. It’s more about what you can do to help the team win. Ultimately, that’s what matters. Playing the right way has to be the focus, and the points will come.

“I’ve always thought Monny is a great two-way centreman. But I can definitely tell he’s really committed this year to winning and doing whatever it takes to win.”

The problem right now is that Monahan and the Flames haven’t found a way to win consistently or find their offence, making no. 23 a poster boy for what ails the team.

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