CALGARY, AB -- A distinctly dynamic duo is starting to forge for the Calgary Flames.
Veteran Jiri Hudler and rookie Johnny Gaudreau, first in third in scoring for the Flames, have not so subtly emerged as one of the most dangerous forward pairings in the National Hockey League.
“I think that they have great chemistry. They love playing together,” coach Bob Hartley said following Tuesday’s team skate. “Looking at their production I think it is pretty safe to say they’ve been real good, not only on the offensive side but also on the defensive side. They’re giving us the complete game. That’s why we’re winning games.”
Only eight duos in the NHL have combined for more points than Hudler and Gaudreau this season. Hudler sits 14th in League scoring with 36 points while Gaudreau is second amongst first year players in goals (12), assists (18) and points (30).
They’re quickly climbing that chart, too.
Including a pair of signature assists Monday at the expense of the Los Angeles Kings, Hudler has 21 points since Nov. 22 -- a span of 17 games. The 21-year-old Gaudreau, the NHL’s reigning First Star of the Week, has nine goals and 15 points in his previous 14 outings.
Both have been instrumental in orchestrating Calgary’s three-game winning streak. The stretch has seen Gaudreau record five goals and an assist while Hudler has five points -- all helpers. Four have been primary assists.
“We have certain details in our game we’re trying to respect but at the same time we exploit talent,” Hartley said. “We’re in the entertainment business and people come and pay and watch those guys play. We’re fortunate. We’re coaching the best hockey players in the world. It’s about scoring goals.
“As long as everyone works in a team environment, I have absolutely no problem that they showcase their talent.”
The team concept isn’t lost on Hudler.
He’s showing much of Calgary’s youth the way both on the ice and off.
“I think Jiri has done an unbelievable job,” Hartley said. “Not just on the ice but off the ice taking care of those young players. Jiri, he’s a very caring human being. He takes care of those young players. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed. He’s a great leader for us.”
JOORIS DRAWING CLOSE
Josh Jooris, who has spent time between Gaudreau and Hudler this season, could draw back into the lineup Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers. The 24-year-old has missed three straight due to an upper body injury but skated between Joe Colborne and Paul Byron in Tuesday’s skate.
“We’ll wait and see for tomorrow,” Hartley said. “We tried him on a line today. We’ll check with the medical staff after practice and we’re going to revisit also after tomorrow’s morning skate. We’re not going to make any premature decisions. We’re just going to wait and see.”
But Jooris, who has eight goals and 13 points in 28 games this season, feels ready to go.
“That was the goal,” he said. “I didn’t want to come back and play at 80 or 90 percent. It’s a long season. Might as well get it back to feeling normal again.”
The Burlington, ON native has been sitting out, but he hasn’t been sitting idly by.
The former Union College standout has been taking notes from the sidelines.
“Injuries are a part of the game and are unfortunate, but I think you’ve got to make the most of the time you sit out,” he said. “You don’t just sit there and sulk and feel sorry for yourself. You might as well make it a positive. I’ve sat up top and got a good view of the games we’ve been playing. You pick up on little things. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
BACKLUND TESTING BODY
Though he isn’t as close as Jooris, Mikael Backlund continues to take positives steps towards his return. Backlund participated in his first contact practice with the Flames since late October.
“It felt good again,” he said. “It was a good skate. It was nice to be out with the boys for a full practice. It felt good. It didn’t feel like I was too slow or anything. I felt pretty good out there.”
Backlund has missed 26 games and underwent an abdominal procedure in November.
As he’s grown closer, the 25-year-old admitted he’s showing more patience.
“I don’t want to rush anything,” he said. “I want to feel comfortable. Today wasn’t overly physical or intense so get a few more of those battle drills in and just battle with the puck a little bit more with the guys and see how that feels. Try to relax and not push myself too hard.”
Though he’s back amongst teammates, there isn’t a set timetable for Backlund’s return, Hartley declared.
“There’s no sense going crazy right now,” Hartley said. “He’s worked real hard in the gym, on the ice by himself, with Dominic Pittis our skills coach. I think that fitness wise he’s good. It’s just to get him in game situation drills right now, introduce him to bodychecking to make sure everything is good. Right now there’s no pain. It’s very positive.”