Monahan's milestone a reminder of how important he is to Flames' success

Sean Monahan scored the opening two goals as the Calgary Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1.

It’s the type of trivia question a fella could certainly stump a room with.

Name the first player from the NHL’s 2013 draft class to score 200 goals?

No, not any of the top five draft picks, including Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin or Elias Lindholm.

It was the man picked sixth, Sean Monahan, who broke the barrier Saturday night with his first of two goals in a 3-1 win over Montreal.

At a time when speculation has been hot over how the 26-year-old centre will fare under Darryl Sutter, it’s how he scored them that wasn’t lost on the new coach.

Monahan initiated the game opener as the first forechecker behind the Canadiens’ net, eventually retrieving the puck with the help of steamrolling linemate Brett Ritchie. A nifty net-front spin finished with him roofing it past Carey Price for his sixth of the year.

The second came on the power play after Matthew Tkachuk’s tip and rebound attempt in tight sent the puck bouncing through the crease where Monahan batted it in from the paint.

He was in the guts of the game both times, where many frustrated fans feel they haven’t seen enough of the three-time 30-goal scorer.

“They were goals from around the net and that’s where he’s got to score from,” said Sutter, who also had Monahan out late in the game to preserve the win.

“He’s a guy we have to rely on faceoff-wise and checking-wise -- the whole package. I think Sean has gotten stronger every game. I’m sure he wanted to play better than he did the other night.”

Yet another subtle reminder there’s room to grow.

That he got to 200 first is a testament to his consistency, world-class release and the sublime playmaking of his age-old winger, Johnny Gaudreau. In seven seasons the alternate captain has yet to finish with less than 22 goals. Just the ninth Flame to record 200 goals, it took him 567 games to hit Saturday’s mark, which is only 41 more games than it took Jarome Iginla.

“Pretty cool -- it’s special when you win and you have a milestone,” said Monahan, who insists Sutter hasn’t asked him to alter his game.

“I haven’t been asked to do anything in particular. It’s a team game. You want the centre to be good and that goes a long way. When they’re strong it makes the game a lot easier for everyone else. Me and Backs (Backlund) are two centremen and we are trying to take charge and lead by example here.”

Monahan’s 201 goals are five more than MacKinnon, who went first overall in 2013 and is an undisputed superstar. In third place is Barkov, 36 goals behind. Bo Horvat is fourth, a whopping 70 goals back entering play Saturday.

Yet the focus on the former 34-goal scorer has long revolved around how he keeps people wanting more.

They feel there’s more to give by way of a physical level he has yet to reach.

When Sutter was hired last week the two players people wondered about the most were Monahan and Gaudreau.

What might the Jolly Rancher be able to spur these two on to?

The Flames haven’t had an elite centre since Joe Nieuwendyk left in 1995, but the coach avoided questions after the game about how he saw Monahan in the pecking order. He spoke only in generalities about how, in a system as heavily dependent on strength up the middle, it will be key for Monahan and the other three veterans to continue stepping up the way they did Saturday.

Monahan’s productive start Saturday highlighted an impressive first period in which the rejuvenated Flames dominated battles and kept play in Montreal’s zone, outshooting them 16-6 to go up 2-0.

The team may have been even better in the second, as part of six straight periods under Sutter in which the team has shown consistency and a work ethic befitting a Sutter-coached squad.

The Flames’ third goal was another tribute to the way Sutter wants his team forechecking, as diminutive Andrew Mangiapane out-duelled six-foot-three, 208-pound Jeff Petry for a puck in deep and fed Backlund out front for an easy finish.

“You’ve got to play with a little bit of swagger and confidence when you play,” said Mangiapane, who pegged his team’s increased work ethic as the biggest difference he’s seen under Sutter.

“I think we’re all working hard and playing the right way. We’re strong defensively in our zone and we’re playing quick. Quick on the puck, quick supporting, quick on the forecheck and quick everywhere. Obviously it’s just two games but we have to keep building on the wins.”

Petry closed the gap to 3-1 with five minutes left in the second, but the Flames responded with a push that prevented the Canadiens from registering a shot on goal the rest of the period.

Montreal’s anticipated push in the third was dealt a crushing blow with 15 minutes left when Jacob Markstrom dove to make a stellar blocker save along the ice Tomas Tatar couldn’t believe was stopped.

“We know how to play our system, we just have to execute it with some intensity and pace,” said Backlund of his team’s two-game turnaround under Sutter that has them just two points behind fourth-place Montreal.

“Playing with the pace we’ve been the last couple games and so much more in the offensive zone it makes it that much harder for Montreal to get into our zone.”

The Flames host Edmonton Monday and Wednesday.

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