Pacific time zone hockey tends to be ignored in the same way as west coast baseball. It’s hard to win an MVP or another prize when your matches are underway at. 21:00 and at 22.00, as you cut down on the hockey writers’ drinking time. You must have a world-class and ear-shocking whining campaign to get someone to notice it. Quotes Kings fans’ campaign with bedwetting to get Drew Doughty to a Norris Trophy in 2016 as proof. And the main stories coming out of the Pacific have been the collapse of the Knights or the continuing soap opera for the ennui-affected Edmonton Oilers.
More eyes should be pointed further south in Alberta, where the Calgary Flames have run off with the division, and have perhaps the funniest line in hockey right now. They also have Johnny Gaudreau, who is perhaps the most entertaining player in the league at the moment.
Gaudreau tore the Kings apart Monday night with two goals and an assist. King’s goalkeeper Cal Petersen will have flashbacks and put holes in the drywall for a while, as Gaudreau made him look like King Doofus a few times, as you can see here and here.
In between, Gaudreau showed his patience and vision and found Elias Lindholm in the crack when he hypnotized four Kings defenders and made them go into steam lock.
Gaudreau backed up last night in Anaheim with two more assists in yet another Flames win over the Ducks. It continues the nuclear warmer Gaudreau has been on since March 1st. In 19 matches, Gaudreau has collected 32 points (14G 18A). Stimgen has shot Johnny Hockey up to 4th place in the league with 97 points.
Gaudreau has certainly benefited from the increased number of goals in the NHL as the season has gone by, but he is perfectly placed on the Flames’ top line, which is the idealization of what a line should be. The combination of a playmaker, finisher and puck winner is the dream that every coach chases for their lines. Joel Quenneville was the big proponent of this in his time in Chicago, and current Flames coach Darryl Sutter was no different when he won trophies in LA. He inherited this line when he took over behind the bench, but has not pilled at. all and have reaped the fruits.
Gaudreau is the one who makes things happen after Matthew Tkachuk does the hard work and loosens the puck from defenders and boards. Lindholm finds the open space to be the recipient of Gaudreau’s genius with 36 goals. All three have 33 goals or more, and the beauty of the line is that these three can all moonlight in the other roles they do not normally fill in the role of playmaker, finisher, puck winner. Tkachuk himself is a deadly goal scorer. Lindholm can get the puck back when you need it. Gaudreau also scores a lot.
The Flames look pretty tasty right now, and it’s hard to see anyone in the Pacific stopping them. They will hope the Knights miss the playoffs and then suddenly become healthy miraculously, but if it’s Stars or Preds waiting in the first round, neither of them has a control line that would have any hope of slowing down the Flames ‘top unit. Though they found a way, the acquisition of Tyler Toffoli is to join Andrew Mangiapane on the second line (Mangiapane himself has 30 goals and is perhaps the most annoying person in the world) to support it.
Does Flames have enough to derail Avs, should it come to that? They have an advantage in net, but Avs has their own doomsday unit of a top line in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Ratanen and Gabe SapsuckerFrog (Landeskog). The flames also have nothing like a Makar or Toews on the blue line. But it will definitely be a party worth seeing when it comes.
The drama over Gaudreau is that he is a free agent after the season. Tkachuk is a limited free agent, and paying them both eight numbers they are going to demand will make the Flames’ cap situation all but muddy. If they could lose the cartoon monolith Milan Lucic and his $ 5 million salary for a carnival ride by the roadside, it would help. The easy story to reach has always been Gaudreau returning home to play for the Flyers, but the Flyers are so far from being relevant that it does not feel automatic or even likely. It’s hard to see how that signing would benefit either Gaudreau or the Flyers.
The Flames will postpone that discussion to another day. They have a real Cup challenger for the first time since Jarome Iginla put the whole team on their backs and pulled them through playoff rounds. Gaudreau has been a pleasure to see at night. He offers something different than the other top scorers, by finding angles and spaces instead of just overpowering them with speed like McDavid or Matthews. He is a No. 10 football on ice, more of a weaver through the traffic than ironing around it or through it. Things go slower when Gaudreau has the puck and freezes everyone in place for fear of what Johnny might do. Johnny Hockey sees the angles and openings no one else can. He is currently doing better than anyone has done. He could keep it going right through June.