Sean Monahan doesn’t need Darryl Sutter to tell him he’s got to be better.
He’s the sort of leader who already knows.
Bumped from the second to the fourth line after two subpar games, Monahan and his Flames embark on a five-game road trip out east in search of more than just their first win.
Following the worst season of his career, the longtime alternate captain is looking to return to being the perennial 30-goal scorer the team needs him to be.
“For sure I have a lot to prove,” said Monahan in a one-on-one sit-down in which he spoke openly about his painful journey last season.
“I had a terrible year last year. Our team wasn’t in the playoffs. You want to prove it to yourself and you want to prove it to your teammates. I want to be a big part of this team. I want to help this team get to the postseason and do damage there.
“Everybody on this team who has been here for a while, and the new guys brought in, we’re hungry. Darryl is going to push us to be our best every day and I think that’s something everybody in the locker room is looking forward to.”
After a pair of season-opening losses, Sutter said there were too many passengers on a team that needed more from certain individuals.
The coach didn’t name names, but at Tuesday’s practice Monahan was removed from the second line between Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane, replaced by Brett Ritchie on a unit that will now be centred by Dube.
“We need speed in the middle of the lineup, and that line in the two games didn’t have much of an impact on the game,” said a pointed Sutter, who has Monahan penciled in to play Thursday in Detroit between Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis.
“We need those guys to be better players. Some guys have got to be better players for us in order for us to win games. The old line about you can’t outscore your mistakes really holds true for our club.”
Monahan’s bad line change aided in Anaheim’s tying goal in the third period of Monday’s loss, and he was then part of the turnover in overtime that allowed the Ducks to score the winner as he scampered back to his own zone, unable to recover.
Not the start he or the Flames were hoping for.
However, it’s hard to imagine that Sutter expected the 27-year-old centre to be razor sharp early on, following an off-season of extensive rehab for hip surgery that cut his year short last May.
Sutter purposely limited Monahan’s preseason play as part of an effort to ease him into the season.
Monahan revealed at the opening of camp that the injury was suffered in Game 6 of the season, which explains plenty about how the man who’d scored at least 22 goals for seven straight seasons only managed to pot 10 in 55 outings.
Even that was a feat, given how serious his ailment was.
“If I bent down, my hip would lock and it would stay locked,” explained Monahan.
“It would take a few seconds to unlock. When you’re taking faceoffs throughout games and you bend down and it’s stuck, it sucks.”
Johnny Gaudreau, Monahan’s best friend on the team, got a first-hand look at the daily pain Monahan endured.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, playing in Vancouver and me Lindy (Elias Lindholm) and Monny always get off the ice first and walk back to the hotel for our pre-game meal and naps,” he said of a jaunt made before Game 13.
“It’s a quarter-mile walk and Monny is limping the whole way. It’s shocking to me this guy can barely walk from the rink to the hotel, and he’s getting up to play games. He’s been like that his whole career where he’s had an injury and plays through it. It shows the type of guy and leader he is. He’s earned that “A” on his jersey and he does a great job wearing it.”
Refusing to take painkillers despite having trouble sleeping through the pain, Monahan counted on the training staff to mask a problem that didn’t get better.
“It was a lot of creams and stuff like that – lots of treatments,” he said.
“When you have stuff like that going on, honestly, there’s not much that helps it. It needed to be fixed by surgery.”
He didn’t know that at the time.
In hindsight, it’s easy to suggest he should have cut the season short and had the surgery long before the final few weeks of the season. However, the drive that makes him a leader and one of the most prolific scorers of his draft class prompted the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Toronto native to limp on in an effort to help the Flames get into a playoff position it ultimately failed to land.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries where you just play and you don’t really know how bad it is until it’s time to get it really looked at,” said Monahan, who has punctuated four of the last five seasons with significant injury revelations.
“You learn your lesson. You can play through things or sit out, but as an athlete you want to play. My thing is, if you dress and are in the lineup, there are no excuses.”
Detractors have long tried to diminish Monahan’s goal totals by suggesting he’s simply a product of Gaudreau’s sublime playmaking.
Teammates recognize and admire his team-first, warrior mentality.
After a 27-goal season in 2016-17, Monahan underwent surgery on his left wrist.
A year later, following a 31-goal effort, Monahan was shut down three weeks early for two hernia surgeries, groin surgery and wrist surgery.
In 2018-19, he followed a career-high 34 goals by revealing after the playoffs he played through a cracked thumb.
Only he knows how last season’s hip ailment ranked in terms of pain.
“It was tough to sleep, I couldn’t walk normally,” he said.
“I mean, when your hips get stuck when you bend down and your leg doesn’t straighten, it’s obviously not a good feeling. The day after surgery, I had instant relief. It changed even my day-to-day life, and I’m really happy with it.”
The process of being happy with his game again continues.