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Gaudreau and Monahan pushing for more offence

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are working at getting back into top form

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- No clichéd niceties. No self slack-cutting. No surreptitious sliding undetected out of trap doors or dodging responsibility.

Not at No. 23's stall. Not Tuesday morning.

"Right now,'' said Sean Monahan flatly, "we're not good enough.

"Me and Johnny know that.

"We've got to find a way to help this team produce offence. I mean, when you play big minutes, get opportunities on the power play and stuff like that, you've got to find a way to get it done.

"We've got to step up.

"It's obviously a team game and everybody has to play a role in winning games. But …"

But?

"But right now our top guys aren't good enough."

Video: Monahan talks about his struggles so far this season

With but a pauper's half-dozen goals to show over a limp one-win, four-loss stretch (and three of those snipes arriving in the lone victory, at San Jose), the Calgary Flames' attack has gone colder than a mother-in-law's kiss.

Naturally in such circumstances, all eyes immediately divert to the two big-ticket summer signings, the youthful custodians of this franchise's future: sidekicks Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

Right or wrong, fair or not, such a degree of scrutiny comes with the territory, is part and parcel of the tax bracket.

Eight goals and five points through 14 starts, respectively, isn't what either had envisioned.

"Guys like Monny and Johnny, it's been rough so far,'' acknowledged the team's current leading scorer, left winger Michael Frolik. "But it's still early.

"I remember my first year, I scored my first goal in the 17th game. And I still ended up with 20. You've just got to stick with it. It's a long season. It's hard not to get too down but you have to trust your talent. Play the game. Play the game hard. Work in practice.

"When you sign those big deals, the pressure is on. But they care. And they're both so talented. But they're both young, still learning.

"It's a tough moment for them right now but they'll get it turned around."

Neither Gaudreau nor Monahan, at least for public consumption, say they feel any undue burden from their freshly-minted contracts.

"You get that commitment, seven years, it adds (responsibility),'' replied Monahan. "But I don't see much pressure from that."

Gaudreau, of course, arrived late to the party, agreeing to terms only 48 hours prior to the opener against the Edmonton Oilers.

"We are in the same position as last season,'' reasoned the Pocket Merlin from Boston College. "We're guys looked at to find the back of the net. When that isn't happening and your team's losing, it's even more frustrating. 

"We've got to keep plugging away.

"We have to give a little more. I think everyone can give a little more. This team isn't just based on two players."

At the core of the scoring is a power play. When a power play's clicking, everything seems easier for offensive players simply as a matter of course, success on the PP spilling over into the five-on-five minutes.

"Over-all, we're generating offence,'' sighed Frolik. "We're getting some opportunities. If you look at the Anaheim game, I believe the scoring chances were eight against eight.

"The special teams have been letting us down.

"If you're going to be successful in this league you need to be in the Top 10 in each of those areas. Those win you games."

Calgary ranks 30th on the power play (8.8%) and 29th on the penalty kill (72.4%).

Much of the Flames' offensive pop, power play or otherwise, emanates from the Monahan and Gaudreau combination. In an effort to kick-start his marquee men, coach Glen Gulutzan has experimented with different wingers on that line and even split the tandem up.

His task is a study in tightrope walking. Do you push or pat? Kick or cajole?

"It's certainly a slippery slope,'' acknowledged Gulutzan. "You want to make sure you're coaching and pushing them but also you want to be encouraging and keeping them confident.

"Offensive guys need confidence to do what they do.

"So you're working both ends of that.

"Sometimes you just want to alleviate the pressure they're putting on themselves and clean their plate up, starting from Square One, rather than worrying about all the other intangibles - the things they can't control.

"You're always kind of balancing day-to-day.

"Guys just work their way out of it. They work they way out of it on the physical side. On the mental side, they break things down.

"We had a talk amongst our group about LeBron James. How they lost, I think it was his first final in Miami. He went and hired his old coach and they went through the basics, went through the skills.

"That's what he worked on.

"It's the same thing here. Just to go back to what makes you successful, concentrating on the small things and letting the big picture sort itself out."

Beginning with the Dallas Stars on Thursday, four of Calgary's next five games will be contested the Scotiabank Saddledome.

They then embark out on a taxing six-in-nine nights odyssey that takes across through the east coast of the USA.

Making this next stretch vitally important.

As captain Mark Giordano reminded everyone on Tuesday:

"This league is unforgiving."

Which brings us full circle. Back to goals. Back to more tangible contributions from Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

It's no coincidence that in pulling themselves back up to .500 recently with three wins on the trot, the Flames averaged four snipes a night.

"It's just sticking to the details of the game,'' said Monahan. "When you're playing the right way, that's when good things happen.

"We've got to keep grinding, play a little tougher, harder in their end. Once we hold onto pucks, things happen.

"So we've got to find a way to do that."

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