Sean Monahan had a hell of a sophomore season. After his breakout rookie year, many were expecting him to regress; instead, he became a 30-goal scorer. He also nearly doubled his rookie point totals, jumping from 34 to 62. Injuries thrust him into a first line centre role, and he took to it pretty much immediately.
Once he was put in between Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler, that was pretty much it: an absolute force of a line, composed of absolute forces of players, was born.
There was something else going on with Monahan, though. It took him a while to get going, leading to sophomore slump speculation, but when he got going, he really got going. A 20-year-old led the Flames in goals, though he ultimately ended up tying with Hudler.
It’s not just the number of goals he scored, though: it’s when he scored them.
Twelve of Monahan’s 31 goals – or nearly 40% – came during the third period, aka the period the Flames became known for. Seemingly constantly down heading into the third, Calgary just kept coming back and winning games, and Monahan was a pretty big part of that.
There’s also the fact that he led the Flames with eight game-winning goals, which tied him for third in the entire league with other guys like John Tavares and Rick Nash.
I’m not a big fan of that statistic, though; I mean, you score the first goal in a 5-0 blowout? Congrats, you’ve got the game winner. Getting the game winner implies being out there when things are at their tightest and tensest, the very game itself on your stick, but that’s definitely not always the case. Sometimes game winners are just innocuous little things nobody would think twice about.
And then sometimes, yeah, they’re overtime winners, and you’re left thinking, “Wow, that kid is clutch.”
As we head into the playoffs, the idea of being clutch becomes especially romanticized. Playoff wins bring even greater rewards. They make for heightened drama. It’s a major gut check time; there are reasons, after all, we’re still constantly seeing Mike Vernon’s save on Stan Smyl, or Theo Fleury’s overtime celebration, and that’s to say nothing of Martin Gelinas.
The good news? Most of Monahan’s game winners are definitely what you’d refer to as clutch.
The OT goals
Monahan’s first three game winning goals? All overtime winners. In fact, he was the only Flame to get more than one of them. And they all came in pretty similar fashion, too.
Late in overtime, and Monahan’s out there. He’s opportunistic, springing on the puck the moment he sees his chance and carrying it into the zone. He gets cut off, so he passes it back to a teammate and heads straight to the net, and gets the redirect.
Again, Monahan carries the puck in. Again, he gets cut off, so he passes it back. Again, he goes to the net. And again, it pays off, as he’s right there to capitalize on the loose puck.
This one was immediate. Monahan wins the faceoff in the offensive zone, and gets it right back to his teammate, then goes to the net himself. And once again, he’s right there to knock the rebound in right away, with quick thinking and quick hands doing the work for him as soon as he gets there.
Now, playoff overtime is very different from regular overtime. It’s five-on-five and potentially endless. But all of Monahan’s overtime winners have two things in common: not only does he start the play, but the second he’s without the puck, he immediately goes to the net. An additional player isn’t necessarily going to impede that; not when he’s going to have to deal with both Monahan’s force and size.
Besides, most of his goals in his career to date come from either right in front of, or just off to the side of, the net, just like his overtime winners this season. And most of those goals occurred in regular five-on-five circumstances.
Three of Monahan’s eight game winners came when the pressure was really on, and he was nothing but composed. He started the plays, and buried them, too.
Third period victories
Of course, winning in regulation is better than winning in overtime. It’s less dramatic, sure, but it’s easier on the heart, not to mention the fact that when you’re pushing for a playoff spot and give up a point to a rival, well, that’s no good.
Thankfully, that time is behind us now! The Flames have their playoff spot. Winning in regulation doesn’t solve the “less drama” problem, though. But at the same time, it does mean you messed up less to get your victory. A five-minute overtime is like a coin flip, and the Flames really benefitted from the coin flip this season. A more certain regulation victory really goes towards establishing oneself.
Of Monahan’s three third period game winners, two were not particularly dramatic. Those two also so happened to be powerplay goals, which are supposed to mean the Flames score. It’s expected.
The situations were all dramatic, though. Down 2-0 to the Edmonton Oilers for most of the game, it took until the third period for the Flames to get on the board. And just a little over two minutes when they tied it up and then got the man advantage, Monahan took the lead. The Flames held on to it, beating the Oilers 4-2.
Then there was the game in New Jersey, where Mike Cammalleri opened the scoring, because of course he did. The Devils held on to their 1-0 lead right up until the end of the second period, when then-Flame Curtis Glencross tied it. Then, with aid of a period-ending powerplay, Monahan capitalized off that lingering momentum, scoring 35 seconds into the third for what was the eventual game winner. Dramatic in the moment, but less so at the end of the game. (Although he did assist on the empty netter to seal it.)
There was one third period game winner that felt pretty clutch, though. You may remember this one from, oh, a little over a week ago:
The Flames, right at the end of the playoff race, controlled their own destiny. That involves winning, though, and they were giving up inopportune goals to the Coyotes in a game in which they had no excuse to lose.
Just barely clinging to a one-goal lead, Jonas Hiller misplayed the puck, and the Coyotes capitalized, once again tying the game and causing some unrest. Beyond the first period, the Flames really hadn’t gotten much going.
Not even two minutes later, Monahan jumped on the puck, carrying it into the offensive zone. He held on to it, waited, and sniped, putting the Flames within one win of clinching a playoff spot.
How will this translate into the playoffs?
It’s hard to say. Of Monahan’s eight game winners, none of them really came in situations we can expect come playoff time. There’s no four-on-four overtime, and while that likely won’t hinder Monahan’s style much at all, he’s never been in an endless overtime situation at this level. Three of Monahan’s game winners came on the powerplay, which has been beneficial for the Flames all season, but in the playoffs, things probably aren’t going to be called as much. Fewer powerplays mean fewer powerplay goals.
Two of his game winners came in the second periods of 6-3 blowouts. One to the Anaheim Ducks, but that was a powerplay goal, and it’s not like the pressure associated with clutchness was present in that situation. The other was against the Toronto Maple Leafs. There are no Toronto Maple Leaf – or Arizona Coyote, for that matter – caliber teams in the playoffs.
At the same time, while determining whether a player is clutch or not is pretty hard to quantify, Monahan does check the right boxes. He both starts and finishes plays. He’s tied for second in the league with regular season overtime winners this season. He scored a bunch later in games. He’s often out there in tense situations, whether trying to tie it up or defend the lead. Everything about him screams that he’s a budding big time player.
This is new territory, but we’ve already seen Monahan step it up throughout the entire season. What’s another level? Although whatever presently ails him clearly isn’t helping, but hopefully he’ll be able to get around that. Regardless, the future lies ahead, and it’s very, very bright. This is only one next step.