Gaudreau leads surging Flames into meeting vs. Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Calgary Flames are surging.
The Flames have won a season-best five games in a row, including a dominating 5-1 win over the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
Yes, those Lightning, who have the best record in the NHL.
Calgary's previous four wins in this streak were all by one goal, and two of them in overtime.
But now, fresh off thundering the Lightning, the Flames (23-16-4) are set to skate into the BB&T Center on Friday night as a highly confident team, facing the mediocre Florida Panthers (18-18-6).
Much of the credit for Calgary's hot streak goes to left winger Johnny Gaudreau, who was named an All-Star on Wednesday.
Gaudreau, who leads the team in points, has 14 goals and 37 assists in 43 games. He also has nine assists during this winning streak.
"Johnny is maybe the most exciting guy I've watched," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan told the Calgary Sun. "You don't know what's going to happen when he's out there he's so dynamic.
"He gets the best looks in the league. He puts himself in position to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates on the ice and can handle the puck, it's pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get opportunities. He is our engine for generating offense."
Meanwhile, the Panthers just finished a 1-2-1 road trip with an emphatic 7-4 win at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, overcoming a 2-0 deficit.
"The last game on a trip, sometimes it's a little hard to get into the game because you are thinking about going home," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck told the Sun-Sentinel. "But I think giving up those two quick goals woke us up pretty quick."
Panthers right winger Radim Vrbata returned against the Blues, scoring a goal after missing five straight games due to an illness.
The only Panthers player presently on the injured list is starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who has an injured right leg and is expected back in early February.
But the Panthers have done well without him, thanks to goalie James Reimer, who has saved the season by making 15 consecutive starts and playing brilliantly for most of that stretch.
The Panthers also lead the NHL with eight shorthanded goals, and they are 11-3-1 when Trochek scores any type of goal.
Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, who has 14 goals and 40 points and was named an All-Star on Wednesday, said the Flames game is a big one.
"Right now, every game is a playoff for us," Barkov told FloridaPanthers.com. "We need to win every game. We have to be consistent. We can't have any bad periods."
Consistency has not been a problem for the Flames and goalie Mike Smith, who has started 37 of their 47 games. He has a 19-13-3 record and two shutouts.
Center Sean Monahan, 23, leads the Flames with 20 goals and is second with 39 points. He is just the second player in Flames history to score at least 20 goals in each of his first five seasons in Calgary. Monahan also has seven game-winning goals this season, which is tied for first in the NHL.
The Flames are 12-4-0 when Monahan scores, and it is no surprise that Micheal Ferland is having a career year. Ferland (19 goals) has the benefit this season of playing on Calgary's top line with Monahan and Gaudreau.
One issue for Calgary has been its weak power play. Ever since Kris Versteeg went down with a hip injury on Nov. 24, the Flames are just 9-for-70 with the man advantage.
However, the Flames scored on their only power play on Thursday, so perhaps even that issue has been solved.
Updated January 11, 2018