Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
You’d think that, by this point in Johnny Gaudreau’s young career, teams would know better than to give him a chance. The size narrative is dead and gone. It doesn’t matter how tiny he is: he is lethal on the ice. You cannot give him time and space.
Good thing Gaudreau can just create it for himself.
That, the top pairing kicking major ass, and some surprisingly effective special teams saw the Flames keep pace with the rest of their division, and get a convincing win.
But more on that Gaudreau kid
Gaudreau currently has 39 points in 35 games. He leads the Flames in scoring; next closest is Sean Monahan with 26 points over the same time frame. He leads the Flames with 96 shots on net; next closest is Mark Giordano with 90. His 17 goals and 22 assists lead the Flames in both categories.
He’s sixth in NHL scoring. All five players with more points than him – Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, and Erik Karlsson – have all played more games than him. He has a higher points per game ratio than Hall, and is on pace with Karlsson. Meanwhile, Kane has Artemi Panarin at 20th in NHL scoring; Benn and Seguin have each other to feed off of, as well as two other Dallas teammates in the top 50; and Karlsson has four teammates in the top 50 for league scoring.
Monahan is tied for 48th in NHL scoring, and that’s it. Gaudreau is basically doing all of this on his own.
He played 21:06, the most out of all forwards. He had six shots on net, the most out of anybody (though Teddy Purcell also had six shots). He, along with Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, put up two points. He scored both the Flames’ even strength goals. The entire Saddledome starts losing it when he so much as has the puck on his stick.
He is to be feared, and he cannot be stopped.
Gaudreau now has 104 points over 116 career games.
Bennett, meanwhile, played just 11:52 – the fourth least amount of ice time on the Flames. He was ahead of sixth defenceman Deryk Engelland, David Jones, and guy-in-just-his-second-game-back-after-breaking-his-leg Lance Bouma, the latter by just 27 seconds.
Bennett did get 51 seconds of power play time, but only on the Flames’ final power play of the game; before that, nothing. And yet, according to War on Ice, he led the way with four individual high danger scoring chances – and that was all before he actually got to play on the man advantage. He also led the way with six scoring chances, and was second (to Gaudreau, of course) with seven individual corsi events. The eye test matches the numbers, too, as he was flying throughout the night.
So this benching him has been beyond absurd. The last time he played more than 15 minutes was back on Dec. 10 against the Buffalo Sabres, but he’s been playing really rather well in all the time since then.
He’s also one of the Flames’ most dynamic forwards, and it’s not surprising that once he was out there on the power play, the Flames scored. He was second on the Flames with four shots on net; there was that moment he destroyed every Oiler in site. He leads the entire NHL with a penalty differential of +16: that’s 16 more penalties he’s drawn than taken.
Bennett is doing everything right. It’s time to stop letting him waste away on the bench. Put him in position to succeed, and he will. He already is despite every unnecessary obstacle thrown in front of him.
Honestly, give him Joe Colborne’s minutes. Colborne has a tendency to do something incredible and then within the next five seconds either kill the play or have things go horribly wrong against his team. There was that particularly impressive giveaway where he skated around the entire offensive zone and then just… left the puck for an Oiler. Giving Bennett Colborne’s minutes would bump Bennett back into the top six and Colborne into the bottom, which really is where both players should be.
The special teams were… good?
Any night you can score five goals is a good one! But when you have the worst special teams in the NHL, scoring two goals on the power play and one on the penalty kill is just an extra level of awesome.
The Oilers had just one power play, and the Flames scored on it; the Flames had three power plays of their own, and Giordano scored on two of them. That’s a massive step forward.
That said, it’s no time to rest on one’s laurels, because the Flames are still 30th in both the power play and penalty kill. They still have a long ways to go.
But the power play units looked pretty good out there. Giordano, Brodie, Wideman, and Hamilton are absolutely the right defencemen to use. The first unit of keeping the first line together of Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hudler works well enough; the newest-look second unit of Backlund, Bennett, and Ferland needs to be kept in place. It’s a combination of two kids with potential and a steady veteran who can occasionally be counted on to help put up points in Backlund. Keep rolling with that.
Seriously, for the love of god, please keep Bennett on the power play. It’s absurd to keep him off of it. Colborne and Mason Raymond are not, have never been better options. Bennett is drawing like all of the penalties anyway, might as well reward him for it.
As for the penalty kill: Markus Granlund has been trying for a while now to score a shorthanded goal, and while he didn’t get it last night, it was his initial shot that kicked everything off, and created the scramble that allowed Matt Stajan to put it in. More often than not, as of late, he’s getting really strong scoring chances while on the kill.
That killing unit – Granlund, Stajan, Giordano, and Brodie – were a +3 in corsi shorthanded. Surviving the storm is good; creating one of your own is even better.