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Flames’ Flat Offence Needs a Spark: Could Huberdeau Light The Fire?

The Calgary Flames have struggled offensively this season, as you might expect after losing two 40-goal scorers.



You know the saying about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone? The Calgary Flames knew what they had but lost it. 

That’s not to say they had a choice. Or that this year’s team can’t turn this into an even more successful playoff performance. But they have to get there first. 

And the score-by-committee crew came up empty in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Friday afternoon.

When Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk chose to commit elsewhere this summer, the NHL’s best line in the league last year was split in three. Only Elias Lindholm remains in Calgary, with Gaudreau in Columbus and Tkachuk in Florida. 

Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar were all brought in to bolster a team with hopes of competing for a Stanley Cup, but the chemistry Lindholm, Tkachuk and Gaudreau had was inimitable. 

As the Flames attempt to build their identity again, they’ll have to rely on the type of play Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter preaches. 

There wasn’t enough of that on Friday either. 

“We’ve got to play a certain way to win — a real check, grind, game. That’s the way it’s gonna be,” Sutter said after the game. “But then you need guys to score.”

Execution has been a problem. Pretty much all season long. And a quarter of the year has gone by already.  

Five-on-five play — the area they dominated a year ago — is a struggle. The powerplay has been impotent lately, too. Lindholm has yet to score five games into their six-game road trip. He’s joined by guys like Andrew Mangiapane and Tyler Toffoli, who were expected to step up their offence with increased roles. Mikael Backlund has been shut out, too. 

Newcomers Kadri and Huberdeau have each scored once in these last five. If not for their goaltenders, things could have been much worse the last week or so. 

“I think there was plays to be made, just didn’t execute good enough,” Lindholm said. “And that affects the entire game.

“Just gotta be better.”

The Flames were good for the first period, although Jacob Markstrom couldn’t stop T.J. Oshie’s quick shot from the slot. That opening goal aside, the Calgary Flames dominated chances. Things got worse in the second, though. 

“After that, they took over and were the better team,” Lindholm said of the Caps. “Overall, not good enough for 60 minutes.”

In an attempt to spark some offence, Sutter put Huberdeau back on Lindholm’s flank, where he started the year. The coach said it was an effort to give Huberdeau more minutes. The winger has come a long way after some early struggles with the new system. 

“Down two, you’re trying to put it all together, see if somebody will get us a goal,” Sutter said, downplaying the idea of a reunited trio. 

“I think Jonathan’s game has come a long way. Trying to get him out there as much as you can.  I don’t think it’s as much a trio. It’s more about ice time. 

“He’s just more on top of everything with his game. Just a little sharper.”

If there’s a silver lining, maybe it’s that. 

We saw last year what an elite offensive playmaker like Gaudreau can do when buying into Sutter’s system. 

“We’ve got more, for sure. Good thing we’re right back at it tomorrow,” Huberdeau said. “I think just work hard and finish the road trip on the right note. It’s been a long road trip. We need a really good start in Carolina. We know it’s a tough place to play in. 

“Wake up tomorrow, new day new game.”

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