When the top line finds success, so do the rest of the Calgary Flames. Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan are all good players, but once the three were united, they became a near-unstoppable force. You remember the March they had in the push to the playoffs: a combined 55 points over just 15 games.
And that was just the push. When they actually made the playoffs, they… completely disappeared against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, actually.
Well, at least until Game 6, which is when they came roaring back to life, combining for four goals and 10 points. That was more like the top line we’ve all come to know and love.
Still, Hudreaunahan disappearing for five games – whether it was due to injury, bad matchups, or whatever the reason – was concerning. Seeing them come back out for Game 6 to take the comeback, and ultimately game, by the throat was much better.
The question is: what are they going to do against the Ducks?
It’s no secret the Flames rely on their top line to put up points and lead the scoring charge. Well, them and their defence, as desolate as it continues to look without Mark Giordano. Timely goals from less heralded veterans (David Jones, Matt Stajan) and rookie surprises (Sam Bennett) kept Calgary in their first round series until the top line came back.
The same top line that combined for 86 goals during the regular season, or roughly 36% of what the entire team scored.
They were even more crucial in games against the Ducks, though. While the Flames scored 18 goals against Anaheim in the regular season, eight of them – or 44% – came from Hudler, Monahan (three apiece), and Gaudreau (two). Another four points – three Gaudreau assists, and one for Monahan – round out what they were able to do.
Not just that, but the Flames had 96 total scoring chances against the Ducks over the regular season. Gaudreau (nine), Hudler and Monahan (eight each) combined for 26% of the Flames’ major scoring opportunities. This pales to the 44% of goals actually scored, but also helps show the trio is Calgary’s best bet to put the puck in the net.
If the matchup is even remotely similar to what it was during the regular season, the Flames are going to need their top line to come through for them, big time.
Fortunately, this may be a matchup that works for them.
It’s important to remember that circumstances have changed over the course of these five games; after all, the Flames’ top line wasn’t a full-fledged line for all of them.
That said, they all faced a number of common opponents against the Ducks. Here’s a look at how well Gaudreau, Hudler, and Monahan did against Ducks they played 20+ 5v5 even strength minutes against throughout the regular season:
At a glance, things actually bode pretty well for the top line. Cam Fowler and Corey Perry gave them some trouble, and Ryan Getzlaf is an even 50% split against Monahan over 23:50 of ice time, but everywhere else, the Flames’ best forwards have come out on top.
Hampus Lindholm has seen 29+ minutes against all three of them, and he has not fared well possession-wise. And Francois Beauchemin was completely victimized over the 23:49 he played against Monahan.
Everywhere else, it’s very close – and the Ducks’ one-two punch of Ryans Getzlaf and Kesler is definitely concerning – but for the most part, the top line has shown they can control play against the Ducks they see the most. They can play Kesler and Silfverberg on the second line. They can play the top Lindholm-Beauchemin pairing. They have experience against Andrew Cogliano, and Nate Thompson may not be up to speed, if he can even play. For a team with such poor possession stats, and against a positive corsi team, it’s going to be vital for them to not only keep it up, but outright thrive.
Bob Hartley has options. He tries to shelter his top line, putting them in position to score. And make no mistake, these positive numbers against the Ducks in the regular season definitely happened in part due to the favourable zone positions the top line often started in.
Matt Stajan has been the anchor of the major shutdown line, and Mikael Backlund can jump in at any time, so centre depth is an advantage the Flames have. Stajan and Backlund may be the ideal targets for the Getzlaf line, not Monahan, which opens up the top line to inferior competition we know they can, and already have, succeeded against. But with only three home games, getting the matchups he wants is going to be tricky.
Home and away may not matter too much, though. Twenty of the top line’s individual corsi events for against the Ducks came at home over three games; 21 over two away games. It’s important to note circumstances, though: their best performance came in the midst of an away 6-3 loss, in which the Ducks had a 4-0 lead. Score effects, not to mention enhanced ice time in a comeback, play some havoc with the numbers. (Though should the Flames need a comeback in the upcoming series, you can bet it’s going to be Gaudreau, Hudler, and Monahan out on the ice.)
That said, there’s more than enough reason to believe the Flames’ top line can both handle whatever the Ducks throw at them, and score along the way. If the Flames are going to succeed in the second round, they’ll need Gaudreau, Hudler, and Monahan to do just that.