Midway through the Calgary Flames‘ eighth loss in their last nine games Monday, Sean Monahan found himself with the type of scoring chance he’s made a living off of.
In the high slot with plenty of time and nothing between him and netminder Jack Campbell, he took an extra step in before releasing the type of wrister he’s converted for more than half his 201 goals.
However, on this night, like so many others this year, the result was laughable, as he sailed the wobbling puck a good four feet over the net.
His confidence clearly shattered, he looked down at his stick in disbelief.
It was a microcosm of how things have gone this year for the 26-year-old centre, prompting Darryl Sutter to send another one of his not-so-veiled shots at the three-time 30-goal scorer afterward.
“We don’t have a 30-goal scorer and we don’t have a 40-goal scorer in today’s game,” said Sutter, whose club has scored more than two goals in just two of their last nine, including Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pressed on how he might be able to tap into the former 30-goal potential both Monahan and battery-mate Johnny Gaudreau have reached a combined five times, Sutter was frank.
“They haven’t this year, have they?” Said the coach, who is now 5-9 at the helm of Calgary’s sunken ship. “If you look at their even strength goals, they haven’t (performed).”
Brace yourself for the numbers: Gaudreau has six five-on-five goals and Monahan, just three.
Two of Monahan’s seven goals this year have come since Sutter arrived, with the pair coming 13 games ago.
Bagels ever since, highlighting the No. 1 issue the Flames have battled since the Jolly Rancher arrived: goal scoring.
The two faces of the franchise have combined for four goals under Sutter and have clearly struggled to adapt to his style of play.
We all wondered how the duo would react under a coach that preaches defence and grittiness, and what we’re witnessing is so much worse than anyone feared.
“Johnny has played that way lately, where there’s some spirit to his game – he has to shoot more,” said Sutter after the latest of three-straight losses in which the Flames were tied in the third. “Sean has been getting a lot of opportunities, and some Grade A ones the last three or four games.”
Like the one he sailed skyward on a night he racked up just one of the five shots the duo has combined for the last three outings.
They’re not the only ones faltering in a playoff “race” that has them sitting eight points back of a playoff spot with fourth place Montreal holding five games in hand.
Keep this up, though, and they’ll be passed by last place Ottawa soon.
Frustration levels in the dressing room must be at new highs, especially after another gritty effort in which Mikael Backlund twice tied the game in the third, only to see Auston Matthews and John Tavares respond with late difference-makers.
“It’s not just tonight, it’s happened to us too much lately,” said Backlund of the late fades. “I just think we aren’t scoring enough, and when we make mistakes they’re usually big ones and they end up in the back of the net. It’s just a bad cycle right now, and it has been for a while.”
On Monday the Flames had a whopping 11 high-danger scoring chances five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Leafs had 13.
But the Flames misfired with far more regularity, as they have been for a while.
“I think we’re getting some decent chances, but we’ve got to bear down on them – that’s what I think it comes down to,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who scored his team-leading 11th even-strength goal.
“Maybe now we get a chance and just miss wide. We’ve got to get out of this rut and we’ve got to finish our chances when we get them.”
Sutter gave his club credit for battling back in the third with some rare offence that went for naught as Jacob Markstrom once again was beaten for far too many.
“Our work ethic, believe me, is not the issue,” said Sutter when asked why the team struggles to score under his system.
Execution clearly is.
And no one highlighted that more than Monahan, whose season-long struggles seem to be intensifying.