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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Trio of core pieces in the spotlight as Flames return from break

When the Flames return from break on Tuesday night, there won’t be a bigger story than the performance of three core pieces down the stretch: Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Mark Giordano. All three have performed well below expectations this season, which has Calgary in a tenuous playoff position, at best. An uptick from this trio could be the difference between a division title, just sneaking in, or missing altogether.

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau

Here’s the problem: not only is production down significantly from Monahan and Gaudreau, they’re also hurting the Flames too often five-on-five. A look at their possession metrics through 50 games paints an unappealing picture of which way the puck moves with them on the ice. All underlying metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Player CF% HDCF% OZS%
Monahan 50.0 45.9 57.4
Gaudreau 50.9 44.7 57.3

Despite the two highest zone start ratios amongst Calgary forwards, Monahan and Gaudreau are barely breaking even on the possession scale. Even worse is how often they’re being out-chanced at high danger. That’s a huge detriment when Gaudreau (15:42 TOI/G) and Monahan (15:03) are two of the team’s top three forwards in even strength ice time.

Now, underwhelming possession outputs aren’t new for this duo, although we’ve never seen it quite this bad. However, most years Monahan and Gaudreau have been able to compensate for mediocre two-way play by scoring at an elite rate. That ain’t happening this season.

Five-on-five All strengths
Player G/60 A/60 P/60 G/60 A/60 P/60
Monahan 0.61 1.04 1.64 0.93 1.46 2.39
Gaudreau 0.75 0.83 1.57 0.83 1.60 2.43

For context, both players are producing at some of their lowest career rates. Monahan’s goals-per-60 is lower than it has ever been, both five-on-five and overall. His points-per-60 in both categories is the lowest we’ve seen in five years, dating back to his first two NHL seasons. The outlook isn’t any rosier for the other guy. Gaudreau’s assists-per-60 and points-per-60 are at career low rates, which includes his rookie season.

Monahan and Gaudreau have routinely been outplayed five-on-five and aren’t making up for it by driving the bus offensively. Knowing how heavily they’re counted on, Calgary is going to remain a mid-range team, at best, unless this duo figures it out. We all think the Flames are in need of another top six winger, which might be true, but that acquisition won’t mean much unless the team gets significantly more from Gaudreau and Monahan.

Mark Giordano

Giordano won the Norris Trophy last year, which was a crowning moment in an impressive rise to prominence over the span of a decade. I don’t think it was crazy to expect a little regression this season, but Giordano has fallen off a cliff offensively.

Five-on-five All strengths
Season G/60 A/60 P/60 G/60 A/60 P/60
2018-2019 0.45 1.35 1.80 0.54 1.81 2.35
2019-2020 0.14 0.57 0.71 0.25 0.85 1.09

The contrast of Giordano’s scoring rates from one season to the next is striking when compared side-by-side. Yes, regression was expected, but not like this; Giordano’s scoring rates across the board are his lowest since 2012-13. A step back is one thing, like maybe closer to his average over the last five years. What we’ve seen, though, is hard to wrap your head around.

It’s easy to say age has finally caught up to a 36-year-old Giordano from afar, but it really doesn’t look like that’s the case. The captain doesn’t seem like he’s lost a step or can’t keep up. Instead, he’s making strange decisions with the puck that are winding up in opposing shin pads or high and wide off the end glass.

Giordano is still a good defenceman and the non-scoring underlying numbers are just fine. He can still log a ton of minutes against good players, but the scoring drop is significant. As such, Giordano has gone from being an elite NHL defenceman to a good one. By no means is he having a “bad” season, but the drop from 2018-19 has been far larger than most anticipated.

Can Giordano return to a level closer to what we saw last season down the stretch? If the answer is yes, much like the case of Gaudreau and Monahan, it could make a huge difference to Calgary’s fate came April.