Why it’s time for the Flames to split up Gaudreau and Monahan

Watch as Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau scores his 13th goal of the season, burying on a breakaway after receiving a spring pass from teammate Milan Lucic.

It is becoming increasingly evident Darryl Sutter needs to split up Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

It’s not working. Hasn’t worked for the better part of two years, which played a significant role in the team’s playoff demise last season.

Gaudreau’s even-strength goal Monday night was his first since Feb. 11, reminding everyone just how poor the two have been when not on the power play. As a combo, they have just nine goals between them while playing 5-on-5, with Monahan accounting for just three of those.

Not nearly good enough for a duo that used to make up two-thirds of the team’s top line.

With the elevation of Elias Lindholm to centre, between Dillon Dube and Matthew Tkachuk, Gaudreau and Monahan have spent the season as second-liners.

The reality is they’ve been outplayed and outscored by Mikael Backlund’s line, which has seen Andrew Mangiapane score a team-leading seven 5-on-5 goals, followed by Backlund’s six and Milan Lucic’s five – that’s twice as many as Gaudreau and Monahan’s line, while also playing a key role in shutting down the opposition’s top threats.

By any metric, Gaudreau, Monahan and Brett Ritchie (who was replaced by Sam Bennett Monday due to injury) are Calgary’s third line. One of the most overpaid third units at that.

Outside of his late, game-tying snipe Monday, Gaudreau has been particularly ineffective since Sutter arrived, picking up just two goals since, including a meaningless power-play marker in the final minutes of a 7-3 loss.

He’s been invisible.

Monahan’s only scoresheet mentions in seven games under Sutter came in a two-goal performance against Montreal.

Seen smashing his stick on the bench in frustration during an early win under Sutter, Gaudreau essentially admitted the new checking-first/dump-it-in system doesn’t fit his style of play at all.

“Whether I’m comfortable with it or not, that’s our team and that’s our system right now,” said Gaudreau when I asked about how he was fitting in.

Switching up who their third wheel is has been a flop for all but two players over the last seven years – Jiri Hudler and Lindholm.

Because time is so short on the team’s desperate attempt to stay in the playoff hunt, one option is to revert to last season’s playoff lines, returning Lindholm to their wing.

That would return Tkachuk to the ever-effective Backlund/Mangiapane pairing, while playoff stars Lucic, Bennett and Dube would be the third group.

By keeping Gaudreau and Monahan together you’re betting they’ll somehow return to their playmaker/finisher roles that made them one of the league’s most prolific duos for the better part of four years.

However, the last season-and-a-half they have been abysmal, made worse by the new structure they’ve been struggling with under Sutter.

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So, I asked Sutter if it was finally time to stop the insanity and change it up.

“I think it was a good thing for Johnny (Monday night), he hadn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal for a long time — hopefully that gets him going,” said Sutter, whose club has scored one goal over its last two losses.

“I still believe that’s where he fits best, with Sean. That’s where he’s been productive. Yeah, you could move guys around on his wings but until (Monday night), Lindy’s line has been pretty productive together. I thought (Monday) they weren’t very much at all. So I guess you could fool around with those two lines.

“But Mikael (Backlund’s) line gives you everything it has got every night, and our fourth line with Derek (Ryan) gives you what you want. In fact, Zac (Rinaldo) goes in and the kid probably had our best scoring chance.”

Sad but true.

Sutter has to be thinking about doing something to effect significant change to Gaudreau and Monahan’s games, as they are nowhere near living up to expectations.

“(Gaudreau) is coming off a 99-point season two years ago, so the expectations from the outside are real — he’s expected to get a point a game or over a point-a-game projection,” said Sutter.

“I’d like him to shoot the puck more, and take his opportunities. The way the back pressure is and the way defencemen close on you, you have to direct a lot more pucks at the goal and that’s where a lot of assists come from now. We just want him to be a little more prolific in the offensive zone and pay attention to the details of the game.”

Sutter has already reduced their playing time significantly, dropping Gaudreau by almost two minutes a game and Monahan by three. They’ve essentially moved to being power-play specialists on a team ranked 17th with the man advantage.

Clearly their fate as Flames is very much in the air this summer, especially if this team is unable to fight back from its horrid start. Finding out how they can play away from one another could go a long way towards determining which of the two (if not both) will be traded this summer.

In an effort to try saving the season, and their respective tenures in Calgary, what’s best now is they try rebounding on different lines.

ANDERSSON ‘MESSED UP’

Well aware of the stir he caused by grabbing the game puck at the final horn Monday, Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson opted to address the situation immediately after Tuesday’s skate.

“It was in the heat of the moment,” said Andersson, who was followed down the ice by Brady Tkachuk, who wanted the keepsake to give to goalie Filip Gustavsson for his first NHL win. “I picked the puck up and didn’t really think about anything. I was just really pissed off because they scored a late one there. I picked the puck up and as soon as I realized it was his first NHL win and their whole team was kind of yelling towards me I chucked the puck back. It was nothing intentional.

“Obviously it was his first NHL win – and obviously he should get the puck. I wasn’t thinking I was going to steal his puck or anything like that. As soon as the ref was kind of like, ‘Give the puck back,’ I was like, ‘Oh (crap), it was his first NHL win,’ and I just threw it back on.”

Did he feel bad about something that was obviously a bad look?

“As soon as I realized it looked like I stole the puck, yeah I felt bad obviously,” said Andersson, who took a beating on social media after his post-game antics were shown on Sportsnet.

“It’s the same for us, our first goal or a goalie’s first-win puck — they should have those pucks. I was just pissed off the way we lost the game. I don’t know if the video shows me throwing back the puck on the ice, so he got his puck. I messed up and own up to it, but it was not intentional at all.”

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