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A NEW CHALLENGE

Glen Gulutzan has tasked his top line with going head-to-head against other top lines in the NHL

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

WASHINGTON - There's no doubting the Flames' top line's ability to generate offence.

Throughout their respective careers, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland have showcased their offensive skills and piled up the points.

However, now, their focus isn't only on offence.

A greater emphasis has been placed on their defensive-zone play.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Flames coaching staff has tossed them out against some of the best offensive players in the league and tasked them with shutting them down.

"If you look at the Giroux line in Philadelphia, you don't have to look any further there, they're a top line in the league," head coach Glen Gulutzan used as a reference point for the trio's new assignment. "I thought they did a very good job and (they've) been doing that for about 10 games, that whole line. Johnny, Mony and Ferly have really embraced the two-way hockey and it obviously hasn't hurt their offence at all.

"I think that all three of those guys have committed extra to knowing that they're playing against the top guys and that they have to do a job and be better defensively and they'll still get their looks."

Without question, they are still getting their looks.

Gaudreau heads into Monday night's game against the Capitals on a nine-game point streak and leads the Flames with 29 points. Monahan leads all Calgary skaters with 11 goals and sits second in the team scoring race with 20 points. Ferland is riding a six-game point streak and has 12 points on the year.

Their newest task clearly hasn't hindered their ability to produce. In fact, according to Gaudreau, going to head-to-head with top lines has sparked more offensive chances for himself and his linemates.

"We want to get into that position where we're playing against top lines and where we can be good defensively," he said. "You get your best offence sometimes when you're playing against other top lines - sometimes, they're not defensively like other lines.

"I think for us, personally, it's just keep doing our best defensively against those guys and we should be all set."

For Gulutzan, having his top line take on this role is a process that could pay major dividends down the line.

In the postseason, games are much tighter and players have only a fraction of the space to work with. Getting them accustomed to playing a tighter defensive game and limiting other top lines' chances will be key.

"It makes sure that your top guys are aware they're out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league," he said. "Now they're a little more conscious defensively. What you hope is that you can, through a course of a season, (make) your top guys more defensively aware. Come playoff time, those things come in handy.

"And the top guys that embrace two-way hockey the best are the ones that are going to be the most successful."  

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