Flames’ once-red-hot top line has been ice cold

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For years now, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate, so it was startling to see Bill Peters split them up, even briefly.

With the Calgary Flames going through (very much relative) struggles lately, Peters has tried different things. Sometimes that means pushing Elias Lindholm up and down the lineup, trying Michael Frolik with Gaudreau, and most jarringly, placing Monahan as a third-line center, with Gaudreau on Derek Ryan‘s wing.

If morning skate lines stick, the Flames are going back to that combination of Monahan, Gaudreau, and Lindholm on Friday. Let’s take a look at their recent funk, which explains why Peters decided to shuffle up the deck chairs in the first place:

Monahan: Five-game pointless streak, a four-point game against the Devils representing the only time he’s generated points in the last eight games (one goal, three assists from that contest against New Jersey).

Lindholm: Also on a five-game pointless streak, and also not much going on beyond blowing the doors off of the lowly Devils. Lindholm has one assist in his last seven games. He’s failed to generate a point in 11 of his last 13 games. Much like Monahan, getting those four points against the Devils (one goal, three assists in that one) camouflages a big drought to an extent. Overall, he has one goal and four assists for five points in his past 13 games.

Gaudreau: Had an assist in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, but has been slumping by his standards, too. Gaudreau only has two points (1G, 1A) in his last six games. He thumped the Devils for an-even-more-ridiculous six(!) points, making his last 11 games look fine with five goals and four assists for nine points, yet he’s been held without a point in seven of his last 11 games.

Taking it to heart

Gaudreau still tends to pass the “eye test” most nights, and with Lindholm feeling a bit like “found money” as a newcomer with unclear expectations heading into 2018-19, much of the angst seems focused most on Monahan. Even weeks ago, a Flames Nation mailbag seemed to be all about what’s wrong with Monahan.

During his brief demotion, it seemed clear that Monahan is all-too-conscious of his cold streak.

“Yeah, when things aren’t going your way and you’re feeling frustrated, that’s when you tend to tighten up your stick and not make the plays you want to make,” Monahan said, via the Calgary Sun’s Daniel Austin. “When you’re coming into a game without that confidence, usually it tends to be a tough game so you’ve got to be tough-minded and ready to go each and every night.”

The bounces dry up

This is an opportunity for Monahan, Lindholm, and Gaudreau to get on track, but to me, it would be wise if someone emphasized optimism with these players. After all, consider that:

  • Gaudreau’s already at career-highs for goals (35) and points (93), blowing away last season’s career-high of 84 points.
  • Monahan’s tied his career-high of 31 goals, and after peaking with 64 points last season, he’s at a career-best 76 points.
  • Lindholm never had a 20-goal season in Carolina, yet he has 27 in his first go with the Flames. Lindholm has more assists (50) this season than he ever generated points with the Hurricanes (his ‘Canes-high was 45), making Lindholm’s 77 points in as many games a truly profound jump.
  • The Flames already clinched a playoff spot, and seem almost certain to win the Pacific. They can take the time to a) rest and b) regain their confidence, while also avoiding a scary first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the grand scheme of things, the Flames’ top line was playing over their heads for much of this season, and regression recently hit them like a cruel bucket of ice water.

Just consider their shooting percentages before and after the All-Star Break.

Gaudreau pre: 29 goals in 51 games, 17.8 percent.
Gaudreau post: 6 goals in 26 games, 7.9 percent.

Lindholm pre: 21 goals in 51 games, 17.6 percent.
Lindholm post: 6 goals in 26 games, 10.3 percent.

Monahan pre: 27 goals in 51 games, 17.1 percent
Monahan post: 4 goals in 24 games, 8.9 percent.

Maybe it’s not very satisfying to say that a lot of this comes down to luck and bounces, but … a lot of this comes down to luck and bounces.

Now, with a playoff spot locked down and their seeding close to guaranteed, the Flames would likely be wise to rest prominent players. Monahan was recently injured, and even if he can play, maybe he’d benefit more from a brief breather? Gaudreau’s a player who uses his elusiveness to avoid some of the grind of the NHL, but an 82-game season wears on everyone.

(And, while Mark Giordano defies age as a strong Norris candidate at 35, the Flames would probably be wise to let him heal up before the big games, too.)

***

None of this totally dismisses the unease that comes from seeing a dominant line’s numbers dry up. That is a little scary. And it’s a bit troubling to realize that, while this trio should give opponents fits, their early numbers might have been a bit of a mirage.

Yet, the Flames have one of the best second lines in the NHL, and chances are, their top line will start moving the needle again soon enough. Nonetheless, it’s something to watch, both as the season winds down and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators-Avalanche postponed due to water main break

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche has been postponed because of a water main break that has soaked the downtown arena.

The NHL said the water main break has “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store.

The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

A makeup date for the  game will be announced later.

Also, a decision on whether to postpone the Predators’ home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be made later.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue in Nashville for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.

Carrier, Pietrangelo rally Golden Knights past Canucks 5-4

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Pietrangelo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and had two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights rallied past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Monday night.

William Carrier scored twice and Mark Stone had a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights (15-4-1), who overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third. Reilly Smith also scored, while Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez each had two assists.

Logan Thompson made 25 saves for Vegas, which had a go-ahead goal wiped out in the third but still kept pushing.

“I don’t think that’s really how we drew it up,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously we score and then it gets taken back. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy to win on the road and you’ve got to give credit to our group – we were resilient no matter what happened.”

Vancouver (6-10-3) got a goal and an assist from Andrei Kuzmenko. Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn and Elias Pettersson also scored, and Quinn Hughes had two assists.

Thatcher Demko stopped 33 shots for the Canucks, who gave up a multi-goal lead in a loss for the seventh time this season.

“Inexcusable,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.

“That’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. That comes down to battle and compete and, we’re getting outmuscled and outbattled in front of the net and in the blue paint,” he added. “Everyone just needs to be better in front of (Demko) there and that’s where games are won and lost.”

Vegas appeared to take the lead midway through the third period, but the goal was disallowed because of a bizarre bounce.

A clearing attempt by the Canucks hit the lens of a camera sticking through one of the media holes in the glass, knocking a piece of it onto the ice. Play continued at that end and Stone put the puck in the net. But after a video review, the goal was overturned and an official said the whistle should have been blown to stop play.

About four minutes later, Pietrangelo did give the Golden Knights a 5-4 advantage when he collected a puck from Stone and sent a backhand past Demko from the low slot at 14:14.

Vancouver scored three straight goals early in the third to go up 4-2 before Vegas roared back.

“We let them score one, kind of changed the momentum quick and then they scored another one. So I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “We just can’t let that happen. It’s been happening way too many times this season.”

Carrier made it 4-3 with his second of the night at 6:54, sending in a rebound from the top of the crease for his sixth of the season.

“Once they scored one it was like, `Uh oh, here we go again.’ And we’re back on our heels and they came at us, and then they got three,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Smith shoveled a puck into the Vancouver net at 8:57 to tie it.

“We just win some pucks below their goal line and get it to the front of the net and force them to defend an area they haven’t done as good a job as they’d probably like this year there,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We didn’t do a very good job to start a third there, and then it snowballs a little bit. You have a little life and you get a couple more pucks to the net and a second chance.”

ON A ROLL

Horvat drew the Canucks even 1:47 into the third with a wrist shot from the hash marks. Vancouver’s captain has 15 goals, second-most in the NHL behind Connor McDavid (16). … Brock Boeser‘s assist on the first goal of the game extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, six assists).

MARKING MILESTONES

Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault played his 500th regular-season NHL game. Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old center suited up for Columbus, Tampa Bay and Florida before Vegas selected him in the 2017 expansion draft. … Vancouver defenseman Ethan Bear made his 200th regular-season appearance.

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a three-game homestand.

Canucks: Begin a three-game trip Wednesday at Colorado.