Flames all-star Gaudreau ‘playing pond hockey’ with high-end skill

Flames all-star Gaudreau ‘playing pond hockey’ with high-end skill

Battling behind the net for a loose puck, the fertile mind of Johnny Gaudreau prompted him to gently flip the puck over the cage before darting around to try batting it out of the air and in.

His one-man attempt to pull off the Zegras/Milano move ended up going wide, which was one of the few times the club didn’t record a shot on goal.

On a night that saw him record seven of the 50 shots fired at Arizona netminder Karel Vejmelka, the Flames winger put on display the type of skill that earned him an invite to this weekend’s NHL showcase.

“I think Johnny was getting ready for the all-star game,” smiled Darryl Sutter, shaking his head when asked about the latest game in which Gaudreau shone.

“He’s a rock star — he looks like he’s playing pond hockey with a bunch of his 13-year-old buddies the way he plays the game,” added Blake Coleman, who had two goals in the Flames’ 4-2 win at Gila River Arena.

“It’s fun to watch. It’s probably even more fun to be him and play that way. I wish I could do that.

“He’s one of those guys on a nightly basis where he has moments you kind of stand up and say ‘wow.’ It’s special to watch and obviously it’s well-deserved for him to represent our team at the all-star game.”

One night after the club’s dramatic third-period comeback victory in Dallas, the Flames parlayed their swagger into a record-tying 26 shots on goal in the first.

Goals by Coleman and Elias Lindholm gave the visitors a 2-1 lead they nudged to 3-2 in the second thanks to a Chris Tanev strike.

By night’s end Tanev had a career-high four points and the Flames had their fifth win in six outings, setting them up for an enjoyable week off between games.

However, most of the post-game chatter revolved around Gaudreau’s performance, even though he finished with just one assist.

“Johnny is a hell of a player, and when he’s feeling like he has been lately I don’t know if there’s a better player in the league,” said Tanev.

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The win was the Flames’ third in a row, leaving them second only to Vegas in Pacific Division by winning percentage.

It’s a perch few could have projected the Flames would sit on at the season’s halfway mark.

“We’re a good team,” said Coleman, summing up an opening 41 games that have him at 10 goals, thanks to a recent scoring binge. “We’re trying to keep that identity on a night-to-night basis. We’ve gotten better these last three games, and we’re seeing some consistency from our group.

“I think we still need to take the next step, but I think we’re starting to. We had our first come from behind win the other night, and that’s something you have to be able to do in the playoffs. And obviously we’re a pretty good team with the lead.

“I think if we can find different guys to step up every night and be difference makers I think we can be a pretty dangerous team down the stretch.”

It’s a fair statement given the goaltending the team has been getting from Jacob Markstrom, and Wednesday night was no exception, as the Coyotes tied the game 2-2 in the second before Markstrom shut the door.

Pulled after two periods a night earlier by Sutter in an effort to kickstart the comeback, some figured Markstrom would give way to Dan Vladar.

Not so.

“He’s our guy — he’s going to play a lot of games,” said Sutter, when asked if his decision to start Markstrom was aimed at trying to ensure he felt good about his game. “It’s not about feeling good about himself. I think he’s felt good about himself for quite a while.”

The Flames are now 17-0-0 when scoring four or more goals and feel good about their playoff chances given the fact they are starting to make good on the games in hand they have on most teams around them.

With so many games to make up due to their Christmas Covid break, the Flames can breathe easier despite an intense, home-heavy schedule that will have them playing 41 games in just over 80 days down the stretch.

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